• Fleet average economy of 24.7 mpg
  • Efficiency gains every year since 2007
  • 5.5 percent increase from July 2012 to July 2013

Fuel economy is a top concern among new-car shoppers. The long-term costs of lower efficiency are high, especially for drivers with long commutes or frequent long-distance trips. In response to shoppers' demands and federal regulations, automakers are responding by delivering more miles per gallon across model lineups. Research by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute shows their efforts are paying off. According to the institute's Eco-Driving Index, the average sales-weighted economy of purchased new vehicles from October 2012 to July 2013 is 24.7 mpg -- an all-time high.

When the Transportation Research Institute began tracking new-vehicle sales and efficiency ratings five years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency had just implemented changes to its rating system for 2008 model year vehicles. Ratings dropped for most models, making it difficult to compare 2008 vehicles to earlier model years for efficiency. Since then, the ratings system has remained consistent and sales-weighted average fuel economy has risen annually, jumping almost 19 percent over five years.

That's especially impressive considering current sales trends. Both trucks and crossovers are selling well. Because these vehicles are typically less efficient than smaller, lighter cars, high sales volume among pickups and crossovers pushes down the average. Still, the average economy continues to climb as efficiency improves, even for larger vehicles.

At the other end of the spectrum, the most efficient cars are thriftier and selling in greater numbers. Hybrids and diesels push fleet efficiency higher. And because the Transportation Research Institute averages combined fuel economy for models available with different engines or drivetrain technology, automakers' eco-minded offerings help to drive up the overall fleet economy.

The result of the efficiency improvements is evident not only in economy ratings pasted on every new-car window sticker but, perhaps more important for shoppers, lower annual fuel costs. From July 2012 to July 2013, the sales-weighted average fleet fuel economy has improved by 5.5 percent. At 15,000 miles per year and $3.75 per gallon for fuel, the efficiency increase translates to $125 in savings per year for the average vehicle. New-car shoppers can expect to see higher fuel economy ratings when browsing the latest models and, in most cases, lower fuel costs once they take the keys.

What it means to you: New cars are delivering higher fuel economy, resulting in lower costs at the pump for drivers.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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