Fuel Economy Flat in 2021, Emissions Down Slightly, Says EPA

Traffic moves along the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles
Traffic moves along the 110 Freeway in Los Angeles. (Jae C. Hong/Associated Press)

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DETROIT — Fuel economy for 2021 model year vehicles in the U.S. stayed flat with 2020 as people continued to buy less-efficient trucks and SUVs, according to an annual government report published Dec. 12.

The fleet of new vehicles got 25.4 miles per gallon for the model year, while greenhouse gas emissions dropped by 2 grams per mile to a record low of 347, the Environmental Protection Agency said in its annual Automotive Trends Report. The 2021 fuel economy figure ties a record set in model year 2020.

The performance came under fuel economy and emissions standards that were relaxed when Donald Trump was president. Requirements will start to increase at a higher rate in 2026 under standards adopted by the Biden administration.

The EPA said in a statement that all vehicle types are at record low carbon dioxide emissions, but “the market shift away from cars and toward sport utility vehicles and pickups has offset some of the fleetwide benefits.”

In the 2021 model year, cars and station wagons, the most efficient vehicles, fell to 26% of U.S. new vehicle production, well below the 50% market share as recently as 2013, the EPA said. SUVs were a record 45% of new vehicle sales for the 2021 model year, while pickup trucks hit 16%.

Stellantis, the former Fiat Chrysler, had the lowest fuel economy and the highest emissions of all manufacturers at 21.3 mpg and 417 grams per mile of carbon dioxide. Tesla, which makes only electric vehicles, had the highest mileage equivalent at 121.5 mpg, and zero carbon dioxide emissions.



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Nine manufacturers were above their EPA carbon dioxide emissions standard: BMW, Volkswagen, Kia, Nissan, Hyundai, General Motors, Mazda, Stellantis and Mercedes. Five were below their standards, meaning they emitted less than allowed: Tesla, Subaru, Ford, Honda and Toyota. Automakers can meet the standards with credits they accrued or bought from other manufacturers.

Stellantis said its showing doesn’t reflect its current or future products, saying it has since introduced a new Jeep that’s the best selling plug-in hybrid in the U.S. The company says it plans to bring 25 battery-electric models to the U.S. by 2030.

The EPA said that since the 2004 model year, average fuel economy in the U.S. is up 6.1 miles per gallon, or 32%.

It said that gas-electric hybrid production reached a new high of 9% of all vehicles in the 2021 model year. while electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell vehicles were 4% of nationwide production.

“Today’s report demonstrates the significant progress we’ve made to ensure clean air for all as automakers continue to innovate and utilize more advanced technologies to cut pollution,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

But Dan Becker, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Safe Climate Campaign, said automakers deserve an “F” grade for the small drop in emissions and for selling so few electric vehicles.

“Automakers won’t slash pollution and improve gas mileage unless strong standards make them do so,” he said in a statement.

Preliminary data for the 2022 model year show mileage rising to 26.4 mpg and carbon dioxide emissions falling to 331 grams per mile.

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