SUVs, Crossovers, and Pickups with High MPG Percent Increases Sell Better

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Matt Curtis

Vice President, Senior Communications Manager and Creative Director, The Public Interest Network

Americans Prefer Better Fuel Economy for Pennsylvania’s Most Popular Vehicles—SUVs and Pickups

PennPIRG Education Fund

A new analysis by the Consumer Federation of America shows that SUVs, pickups and crossovers, whose MPGs (miles per gallon) increased by over 15% between 2011 to 2017, had a 70% increase in sales. On the other hand, those same vehicles with less than a 15% increase in MPGs from 2011 to 2017 only experienced a 50% increase in sales, 20% less. (See figure below). “It makes sense that Pennsylvanians by more fuel efficient vehicles because they are independent, smart shoppers and know what happens to their pocketbooks when gas prices go up,” said Jack Gillis, CFA’s Executive Director and author of The Car Book.  


“This completely debunks claims that consumers don’t value good gas mileage,” said  Matthew Casale, PennPIRG Education Fund’s Federal Transportation Advocate, “Clearly, the more improvement in MPG, the better the sales.”  Keeping gas cost affordable for Pennsylvanians is particularly important because last year a whopping 68% of new vehicle sales were Light Trucks. 



SUVs, Crossovers, Light Trucks – 2011-2017

Percent Increase in MPG 2011 – 2017

Number of Vehicles

2011 Average Sales Per Model

2017 Average Sales Per Model

Average Change in Sales (Units)

2011 – 2017 Average % Change in Sales

15% or More






Under 15%






Mileage figures from EPA and Sales from Auto News

The Nissan Pathfinder, which increased by 4 MPG from 2011 to 2017 and saw a sales increase of 278,922 or a 224% increase in annual vehicle sales. Meanwhile, the Kia Sorento which had a 1 MPG decrease saw a 23% decrease in sales from 2011 to 2017.  And today, as consumers increasingly choose crossover models over sedans, the typical crossover now gets 11% better gas mileage than in 2011, thanks to fuel economy standards that the car companies and President Trump want to rollback.

“Our analysis clearly indicates that the car companies are fully capable of meeting the CAFE standards and can do so with great savings for consumers,” said Gillis. “Rolling back the standards at this point would not only hurt America’s already financially beleaguered consumers, but would hamper vehicle sales and put U.S. car companies at a distinct competitive disadvantage to the Asian car companies who will meet the standards.” Numerous cost-benefit analyses show that these standards can save consumers thousands of dollars over the life of the vehicle in reduced gas costs, even at today’s lower prices. In a recent report, CFA calculated that rolling back fuel economy standards, would lose one-half trillion dollars in pocketbook savings on transportation costs, considering both household gasoline and the cost of diesel used in trucking goods, (which is passed through to consumers).


It is particularly interesting to note that the Asian and Korean car companies joined with U.S. automakers in asking President Trump to roll back the standards. If the standards are rolled back, and the domestics take advantage of lower standards, the foreign manufacturers will inundate the market with their fuel sipping models and, once again, U.S. automaker lots will be filled with inefficient vehicles.


What’s ironic is that the current standards are not ‘one-size fits all’ and were specifically crafted to respect the vehicle mixes among manufacturers as well as consumer choice. Acknowledging the fuel efficiency challenges inherent in larger vehicles, the standard incorporates two separate calculations, one for cars and one for light trucks, SUVs, and most crossovers.


Furthermore, within those calculations, a sliding scale further reduces the requirements on larger vehicles. Finally, automakers meet requirements on an average basis across their entire fleet, which means that not all of the manufacturer’s models have to meet a given year’s target. This enables automakers to produce a mix of vehicles in response to consumer demand in Pennsylvania. The result: the standards have helped create a much more efficient Pennsylvania auto fleet while preserving both manufacturer and consumer choice on size, weight and performance.


“The bottom line is that consumers want higher fuel economy, whether they’re driving a compact or pickup, and the current MPG standards are delivering it for them,” said Casale.


It’s no surprise that consumers want better gas mileage since the typical household spends over $1,500 on gasoline each year, which is about as much as the they spend on electricity or telephone services, according to the Consumer Federation of America.