Chart of the Day: Average US Fuel Economy since 1975

Here’s a chart that appears in a (less-than-groundbreaking) discussion about peak vehicle miles traveled, showing average US fuel economy since the 1970s.

fuel economy chart

According to the page (Peak Oil News):

The graph also shows that, with the second oil crisis, mileage restarted to increase, but by far not as fast as in the 1970s. There is a reason: it is difficult to optimize something already optimized. This we call ‘diminishing returns of technological progress.”

Not sure I agree! Where do you see fuel economy headed in the coming years?


9 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Average US Fuel Economy since 1975

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    As I stopped at a gas station driving back from Northern MN yesterday, I had a sort of epiphany moment… just the fact that multiple people in a two ton steel cage could travel thirty miles on a gallon of gasoline that costs under $4. We just need to step back and think about the immense luxury that is, considering we now make trips in complete comfort within hours, while our forefathers would cover the same distance in discomfort over the course of days or weeks.

    The law of diminishing returns is a real thing. Optimize away, but the solution lies with more than just optimization. We just need to build our lifestyles around less routine driving. Greater is the person who drives a big ol 10 MPH truck 5 miles to and from work each day than the person who drives a Prius 100 miles to and from work each day.

    Gizmo green is cool and I hope the field progresses, but we can’t forget about optimizing lifestyle rather than optimizing technology. That means living close to work, school, and other destinations that require trips multiple times per week. And we should then think about our consumption of fossil fuels for mobility in terms of person-miles per trip, not necessarily miles per gallon.

  2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    I wonder what it looks like for Europe?

    Because what I see there is the power of the price mechanism. When fuel prices go up, innovation (or restraint) kicks in. When fuel prices are flat, so is innovation. That should be no surprise.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      So true. And any gains from innovation just go towards moving more car with the same amount of fuel when prices don’t go up. In order for the market to work effectively, we need to stop massively subsidizing fossil fuels and exclusively auto-dependent land uses. Raising prices is a necessity.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      Nice, go ahead and post. I’ll follow up with one I’ve been working on, which shows the real value of our state gas tax over time (pushing for an increase and inflation pegging for the gas tax, but of course on the condition that we build #NoNewRoads).

  3. Scott

    I suspect that graph goes a long way toward explaining the economic joy of the Clinton years. If overall energy prices moved somewhat in tandem with gasoline, energy hit its cheapest during that time.

  4. Nathanael

    Fuel economy? In the short run, all cars will become serial hybrids (like the Volt). In the long run they will all be electric (like the Leaf or Tesla). It’s the only way to increase fuel economy now.

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