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Fuel economy up, but consumption up even more

March 6, 2013

Although vehicle fuel economy has improved 40 percent since 1970, the total amount of fuel used has increased by more than half, according to UMTRI research.

Using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation from 1970 to 2010, UMTRI research professor Michael Sivak examined the impact of changes in vehicle fuel economy, distance traveled and vehicle load (number of occupants) on fuel consumption and the potential effects of future changes on reductions of fuel used for personal transportation.

Sivak found that during the 40-year period, vehicle distance traveled increased 155 percent overall, but because vehicle load fell 27 percent, occupant distance traveled rose only 84 percent.

Vehicle fuel economy (of the entire fleet of light-duty vehicles) improved from 7.7 gallons/100 miles to 4.6 gallons/100 miles. However, because of the decrease in vehicle load, occupant fuel economy improved by just 17 percent.

"As a consequence of the changes in vehicle fuel economy, vehicle distance traveled and vehicle load, the total amount of fuel used increased by 53 percent," Sivak said.

Read the U-M news release.

Read the full report.