EPA releases another discouraging Automotive Trends Report

EPA releases another discouraging Automotive Trends Report

The Environmental Protection Agency just released its 2023 Automotive Trends Report, which describes its regulatory framework for light duty vehicles and the progress being made by the automotive industry. The report focuses heavily on tailpipe carbon dioxide and includes finalized U.S. data through 2022. As usual, there is little good news for folks concerned about climate change, with the same familiar consumer trends undermining the environmental benefits achieved through automotive innovation.

The EPA is responsible for CO2 abatement and always puts a positive spin on its annual automotive statistics. The estimated CO2 emission rate for all new light duty vehicles fell by 10 grams per mile (g/mi), ending at 337 g/mi. The modest year over year reduction corresponds to an average fuel economy increase of 0.6 MPG, and the EPA characterized the progress as “the largest single year improvement in CO2 emission rates and fuel economy in nine years.” The rate of improvement is considerably faster than the painfully slow progress achieved over the last two decades. According to the report, CO2 emissions from new U.S. vehicles have decreased by just 120g/mi since 2002.

The report includes the estimated real-world fleet emissions of the fourteen largest automakers, highlighting changes that occurred between 2017 and 2022. Hyundai’s new vehicles improved from 311 g/mi to 302 g/mi, taking the checkered flag as the most efficient full-line U.S. fleet. Kia’s 2022 fleet was close behind at 306 g/mi, Honda finished at 309, and Subaru coasted in at 318. Toyota’s fifth place fleet showed the greatest improvement, dropping from 351to 319. The fleet manufactured by Stellantis (which includes Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep and Ram), had the highest real-world emissions, improving slightly to 415. General Motors (which includes Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC) had the second highest, increasing from 388 to 406. The EPA does not hold automakers accountable for their upstream emissions, so Tesla’s unique fleet of fully electric vehicles remained unchanged at zero grams per mile.

The EPA’s analysis concludes that efficiency gains made through automotive innovation have been diminished by consumer trends favoring larger, more powerful vehicles, which are known to increase CO2 emissions. Since 1985, average vehicle weight has increased from 3,271 pounds to 4,303 pounds, while horsepower has more than doubled. As a result, emission reductions from conventional gas powered vehicles have ground to a halt. In 2022, fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell vehicles were responsible for decreasing the average CO2 emissions of all new vehicles by 22 g/mi, which is roughly equivalent to all the progress made in the U.S. since 2016.

While electrified vehicles are now responsible for the lion’s share of tailpipe emission reductions, consumer trends are starting to undermine the efficiency of the emerging electric fleet. The fuel economy of fully electric vehicles has increased 10% since 2011, but MPGe has now fallen two years in a row as production has shifted to larger EVs. The fuel economy of plug-in hybrids fell 30% over the last year for the same reason. The counterproductive trend is projected to worsen in 2023, increasing upstream emissions, squandering electricity, and making it more difficult to build an adequate supply of public charging stations. If climate change is going to be brought under control, automotive trends in the United States will need to be steered in a new direction.