Tesla Wrecks the Curve. Volvo: See Me After Class

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Jun 24, 2014

The bad news: Volvo, Porsche, Jaguar/Land Rover, Mercedes-Benz and Chrysler all have less than 25 percent of their new models meeting tightening federal fuel economy rules.

The good news: Mazda, Subaru, Tesla and Honda are doing much better, and the average car’s fuel economy has improved 20 percent (from 21 to 25.6 mpg) since 2008. That means, despite higher gas prices, you and I are spending $300 a year less on fuel annually as we drive the typical new car.

Volvo, meet Slim Fast! The XC90 carried a weight penalty for 2014 (4,677 pounds) but the new model (pictured) went on a substantial weight loss program. (Volvo photo)The Consumer Federation of America has crunched the numbers and taken our temperature. Director of research Mark Cooper gives it a positive spin. “Public opinion is backed up by pocketbook economics," he said. "Consumers are concerned about the price of gas and dependence on Middle East oil, and it’s a rare bipartisan issue that cuts across party lines.”

So how are the automakers doing in the buildup to the standard they all agreed upon—54.5 mpg by 2025? It’s a mixed bag. According to CFA spokesman Jack Gillis, “Last year, more than 45 percent of 2014 cars got over 23 mpg combined; today, more than 50 percent have reached that milestone." And 50 percent of 2014 models meet next year’s federal standards.

“It shows that 54.5 is achievable, though not all manufacturers are moving at the same pace,” Gillis said. Nineteen of the 29 new vehicles offer a version that meets the 2014 standards, and seven of them meet 2018 rules. Three all-new cars for 2014—the Mitsubishi Mirage, Nissan Rogue and Toyota Highlander—would be compliant as far ahead as 2020.

Telsa is, obviously, 100 percent compliant with one electric model. Though CFA likes to look at the bright side, it falls dramatically from there. Here’s a few scores: Mazda (80 percent of 2014 cars meet the standards), Subaru (52 percent), Honda (51 percent), Kia (40 percent), Mitsubishi (39 percent), Ford (38 percent) and Toyota (34 percent). At the very bottom is Volvo, with zero percent.

EV cheat! Tesla has no problem meeting the 2014 federal fuel economy standards--it's one model is all-electric. (Tesla Motors photo) Yes, zero percent. I asked about this, pointing out that by concentrating on safety technology, Volvo has had to put up with weight penalties that compromised fuel economy. “It’s probably because Volvo hasn’t yet focused on increasing the fuel efficiency of their vehicles,” Gillis said. And Cooper added, via email, “One of their current issues is that they simply have no four-cylinder engines this year. The use of four cylinders is growing rapidly and my guess is that when Volvo start using them, they’ll be able to carry any extra safety weight around much more efficiently.”
As a sign of what’s coming in the auto industry, Volvo will be offering not only a plug-in hybrid (date uncertain) in the U.S., but a range of two-liter Drive-E four-cylinder engines in 2015, with plenty of power options—up to 302 horsepower, using a turbo, a supercharger, or even both. And we’ll be seeing 37 mpg combined on some of those cars.
We probably won’t know actual compliance with the 2014 standards for a couple years, because all the sales have to be tabulated and final calculations made, CFA said. But these early projections are certainly interesting. If you've got the high gas price blues, here are some tips via Car and Driver about what you can do to increase fuel economy, even if your ride has more than 100,000 miles on it:

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