WASHINGTON — Americans bought slightly more efficient cars and trucks in 2008 compared with a year earlier, and are expected to do so again this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said recently.
But the report also suggests how difficult it may be for the industry to win acceptance among consumers for the vehicles they will have to build under the agreement with the Obama administration to hit an average mileage of 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016.
The EPA's report uses the real-world estimates of mileage, rather than the laboratory measure automakers and regulators use to craft their 35.5 mpg pledge. According to the EPA, new U.S. vehicles averaged 21 mpg in the 2008 model year, up 0.4 mpg from 2007.
The EPA also estimated 2009 models would average 21.1 mpg, but warned that the industry's turmoil made its forecast less reliable.
Among automakers, Honda Motor Co. once again led the industry, with its models averaging 23.9 mpg in 2008, while Hyundai, Kia and Toyota were close behind. Chrysler ranked last among major automakers with an average mileage of 19.3 mpg in 2008, a figure the EPA estimated could fall to 18.7 for 2009 models.
General Motors Corp. averaged 19.7 mpg in 2008, while Ford Motor Co. averaged 19.4 mpg. The EPA expects Ford to post the largest increase among major automakers in 2009 models, estimating Ford would hit 20.5 mpg. GM is expected to show a smaller increase of 0.2 mpg.
Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate campaign, said the report showed that the gasoline price spike of 2008 to more than $4 a gallon in many areas did little to influence car buyers toward more efficient models.
"Gas prices have risen each year from 2002 to 2008; industry has failed to keep pace by improving mileage," he said in a statement. He added, "The Obama administration must repeatedly ratchet up mileage and tailpipe standards."