American Cars -- and Drivers -- Getting Steadily Greener

American Cars -- and Drivers -- Getting Steadily Greener

Image CC licensed by Flickr user David Reber's Hammer Photography

It's no surprise that President Barack Obama is getting some pushback from some -- but not all -- automakers in the wake of his call to boost the 2025 Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standard to 56.2 miles per gallon.

But the market is already heading in that direction, driven by a range of factors, including gas price spikes, more fuel-efficient vehicle options and Americans driving less, according to the latest Eco-Driving Index from the University of Michigan.

The index found that the average driver who bought a new vehicle in April 2011 produced 14 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions from driving that month compared to drivers who bought a new car in October 2007, when the index was first launched, said Michael Sivak, who, along with Brandon Schoettle, developed and updated the index.

"This is the case because of both the reduced amount of driving in April 2011 vs. October 2007, and the improved fuel economy of vehicles purchased in April 2011 vs. October 2007," Sivak said in an email.

The index also estimates fuel consumption, taking into account fuel economy and  and distance driven. When comparing new car owners from April 2011 vs. October 2007, there is a 2 percent decline in distances driven and a 12 percent drop in the amount of fuel used per distance driven.

"A 2 percent drop in distance driven is notable in the context of the continuously increasing distances driven in the past," Sivak said. EDI - April

As you can see in the graph, the trend line is made up of several spikes and dips that reflect general fuel and recessionary market trends.

"The improvement in the fuel economy of purchased vehicles during the first half of 2008 was likely related to the sharp increase of gas prices during that time period," Sivak said.

But that gas spike, painful as it was, failed to produce any long-lasting effects on employee commuting, as we noted in our annual State of Green Business report. By 2009, the percentage of workers driving alone to work inched back up to 76.1 percent from 75.5 percent in 2008, showing that some habits, namely driving, are truly hard to break.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user David Reber's Hammer Photography.