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Slowing global fuel economy improvements is ’cause for alarm’, says report

Global fuel economy has improved during a 12-year span, but those gains have slowed in more recent years, raising concerns about reaching future fuel economy goals.

A new report from the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) reveals that while fuel economy improved by an average of 1.7 percent per year from 2005 to 2017, that number dipped to just 0.2 percent from 2015 to 2017.

Similar numbers have been seen in the U.S. — the EPA recently revealed a new record high in fuel economy for 2017, but it was only a 0.2 mpg increase overall from the previous year.

But that’s still better than a number of other countries, at least when it comes to growth percentage. The International Energy Agency (IEA), which worked with the GFEI on the report, said “a total of 27 countries – including Sweden, Canada and the United Kingdom – saw the fuel economy of their fleets stagnate or worsen from 2015 to 2017.”

The IEA says gains have mostly slowed due to an increased demand for SUVs and pickup trucks, up 11 percent since 2014. SUVs in particular now represent nearly 40 percent of the global car market. That share reached nearly 60 percent in North America and Australia in 2017.

Goals In Peril?

The trend is a “cause for alarm,” according to IEA Executive Director Fatih Birol. He said,

“Improving vehicle fuel efficiency saves money, cuts carbon emissions while also reducing harmful air pollution and boosting energy security. Much more effort will be needed to reverse the slowdown and put the world on track to meeting its energy security and sustainability objectives. The IEA, as a founding member of the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), stands ready to help drive this process.”

The IEA rightly points out that these trends will make it tough to hit the goals of the Paris Agreement when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. To achieve the similar fuel economy goals of the GFEI and UN “would require an average fuel economy improvement of 3.7% across the global fleet, a rate more than triple what was seen between 2016 and 2017. Policies will play a key role in accelerating improvements, as countries with policies to encourage fuel economy through a mix of regulation and purchase incentives saw 60% faster improvements than those without.”

Electrek’s Take

There’s an obvious way to reach future fuel economy goals — more electric cars from carmakers. Especially electric SUVs and trucks.

That may seem overly simplistic, and there are other factors, such as the continued proliferation of charging stations. But considering meager fuel economy gains overall in recent years, and a demand for SUVs and trucks that doesn’t seem to be slowing any time soon, it’s the only reasonable path.

And it’s happening. We expect to see this trend reverse soon and average fuel economy to improve at a record pace over the next decade.

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