More efficient cars means less gasoline use in U.S. soon

Motorists refuel at a Mobil gas station in Pittsfield, Mass., in 2015. (Ben Garver/The Berkshire Eagle via AP)

U.S. gasoline consumption will fall over the next three decades, despite record travel, as fuel efficiency improves in American cars.

Americans are driving more vehicles, the U.S. Energy Department said in a recent report, but improvements in fuel economy will more than offset the increase in miles.

U.S. light-duty vehicles — cars, trucks, SUVs and vans — traveled a record 2.84 trillion miles in 2016, the report said. The number of miles driven per vehicle remained steady at about 12,000. But with more vehicles in use, miles traveled continues to rise. The energy department’s Energy Information Agency expects Americans to drive 3.33 trillion miles in 2040.

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At the same time, federal fuel economy standards are tightening, to 35 miles per gallon for 2015-model passenger cars, and 27 miles per gallon for light trucks.

By 2025, new cars will be required to average 53 miles per gallon; new trucks, 38 miles per gallon.

As a whole, fuel economy will improve in new passenger cars by 43 percent between 2015 and 2025, from 31 miles per gallon to 45. Light truck fuel economy should increase 46 percent, from 21 miles per gallon to 31.

The net effect: Automobile energy consumption should drop 12 percent, from 16.1 quadrillion British thermal units (Btu) in 2017 to 14.2 quadrillion Btu in 2025, despite a 5 percent growth in vehicle miles over the same period.

The administration projects gasoline consumption by light-duty vehicles will fall from 8.7 million barrels per day in 2017 to 7.5 million barrels per day in 2025.