DETROIT – New cars and trucks sold in the U.S. last year got an average of 23.6 miles per gallon in combined city and highway driving, a record that came mainly through improvements to engines and transmissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mazda led all automakers with an average of 27.1 mpg, followed closely by Honda with 26.6 and Volkswagen at 25.8.
Chrysler-Fiat, which relies more on trucks and larger cars for its sales, had the worst mileage at 20.1, followed by Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz luxury vehicles, at 21.1.
General Motors, which also sells a lot of trucks and SUVs, was third from the bottom at 21.7 mpg, according to the report. GM has an Allen County truck assembly plant.
The increase for 2012, the most recent data available, was 1.2 mpg above 2011’s number, the second-largest annual increase in 30 years, the agency said Thursday.
The EPA estimates that vehicles in 2013 will see an average mileage gain of 0.4 percent, to 24 mpg. Final figures for 2013 won’t be available until next year.
Last year was the first year that automakers fell under more stringent government fuel economy regulations that require them to sell cars and trucks that get a combined 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Christopher Grundler, director of the EPA’s office of Transportation and Air Quality, said many automakers already are meeting gas mileage standards for 2016 because of innovations.
Automakers are offering more efficient engines, multiple-speed transmissions that keep engines at peak efficiency, and turbochargers that gives smaller engines more power when needed.
They’ve also reduced weight by using lighter materials, powered more pumps off a battery rather than the engine to eliminate drag, and improved aerodynamics of new cars so they slice through the wind with less resistance.
Gas mileage is up 12 percent since 2008 and 22 percent since 2004, according to the report.