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In an annual automotive trends report published by the EPA, Honda leads the full field of U.S. automakers in best fuel efficiency (+10.3%) at lowest CO2 emissions (-9.5%). The improvements were measured and reported as a comparison of 2018 model year vs 2013 model year. The data is based on 'official' regulatory data manufacturers submit to the EPA and NHTSA.

CR-V fuel economy improved from 23 mpg in 2013 to 28 mpg in 2018 (+22%), which bolstered results. The CR-V was Honda's top-selling vehicle in calendar year 2019, selling 384k units (versus Civic 326k units and Accord 268k units). 83% of Honda's now have direct injection, and 54% of models have turbo-charged engines.

I would've guessed Toyota would rank higher given the Prius, but its line of SUVs/trucks definitely drags down the average fuel efficiency for the brand.

Volkswagen and Hyundai were two manufacturers whose results deteriorated between 2013 and 2018. The end of diesel sales after the VW emissions scandal, and VW's move toward selling more large SUVs impacted the overall brand result. Hyundai fell less significantly from 29 mpg in 2013 to 28.6 mpg in 2018.

US brands were at the bottom of the list due to large proportion of truck and SUV sales, and lower associated fuel economy results.

EPA Report Highlights - Highlights of the Automotive Trends Report | US EPA
EPA Summary Report (13 pages) - https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-03/documents/420s20001.pdf
EPA Full Report (155 pages) - https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-03/documents/420r20006.pdf


 

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It appears hybrids are the last step before they can't squeeze more fuel improvements out of the ICE. Automakers already are using turbos, cvts, direct injection, cylinder deactivation, engine start/stop, and 7+ gear transmissions.

 

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It appears hybrids are the last step before they can't squeeze more fuel improvements out of the ICE. Automakers already are using turbos, cvts, direct injection, cylinder deactivation, engine start/stop, and 7+ gear transmissions.
I think cost is a huge factor. It's "easier" to slap in a turbocharger. And "less easy" to convert an entire powertrain to incorporate an electric engine and HV battery. Once the cheap/easy solutions are tapped out, manufacturers will need to make more dramatic changes. I think that relates to the timeline 3-5 years out where manufacturers are declaring their line-ups will look different and/or more electrified.
 
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