New vehicles in the United States are the fastest and heaviest in three decades, with the fleet's fuel efficiency no better than the figure for 1994 -- about 21 miles per gallon, the government said.
The fuel-economy estimate for 2006 model vehicles, based on combined city and highway driving, is 5% below a 1987 peak of 22.1 mpg, the Environmental Protection Agency said in an annual report Monday. Improvements in fuel-saving technology failed to boost overall fuel economy, as the average vehicle weighed in at a record 4,142 pounds, 11% more than in 1997.
"We've been in the same ballpark since the late 1990s," EPA spokesman John Millett said to Bloomberg News. "It's not that unusual for the average figure to remain unchanged."
The mileage estimate for 2006 passenger vehicles -- cars, sport utility vehicles, pickup trucks and minivans -- continues a recent trend even though gasoline prices have risen steadily and average $3 a gallon, the agency said.
Gains from gasoline-electric hybrid engines and other fuel-saving technologies were noted. But the technologies represent a small fraction of what is available in showrooms, and bigger models continue to blunt efficiency.
SUVs, pickups and other members of the light-truck class average 6 mpg less than cars and account for much of the decline in fleet-wide fuel efficiency, the EPA said.
For 2006, sedans, wagons and compacts are expected to average 24.6 mpg. SUVs are expected to get 18.5 mpg, and pickups 17 mpg.
Among major automakers, Honda Motor Co. scored highest, with 2006 cars and trucks that average 24.2 mpg. DaimlerChrysler was lowest, with vehicles that average 19.1 mpg.
The EPA's efficiency estimates are less conservative than widely cited calculations used by the Transportation Department for measuring passenger vehicle fuel standards, or corporate average fuel economy.
The EPA has proposed tougher government-wide requirements for calculating fuel economy.