From: Scott Horsley, NPR
Published January 9, 2016 08:04 AM

As gas prices fall, consumers going back to less fuel efficient vehicles

There were high-fives this week from Detroit to Washington, D.C., as carmakers celebrated record auto sales.

Americans bought 17.5 million cars and trucks in 2015. That's a huge turnaround from 2009, and the Obama administration cheered the rebound as vindication of the president's decision to rescue General Motors and Chrysler from bankruptcy.

"Because of the policy decisions that were made by this administration to place a bet on those workers, America has won, and our economy has been better for it," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Wednesday.

There's another element of the president's auto agenda, though, that's not looking so good: the drive for better fuel economy. In 2011, Obama struck a deal with automakers to sharply increase their vehicles' efficiency. The move was designed to save money for consumers. It was also a key ingredient in the president's recipe for reducing heat-trapping carbon pollution linked to climate change.

"By the middle of the next decade, the cars and trucks we buy will go twice as far on a gallon of gas," Obama promised in 2013. "That means you'll have to fill up half as often; we'll all reduce carbon pollution."

For a while, it worked. Automakers invested in fuel-saving technology, and consumers — burned by high gasoline prices — paid greater attention to miles per gallon. The average fuel economy of new vehicles rose from 22.6 miles per gallon in late 2011 to 25.8 mpg in mid-2014. But those improvements have now stalled.

Young man test driving a SUV image via Shutterstock.

Read more at NPR.

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