In 2012, MotorTrend teamed with the world’s preeminent real-world on-road emissions testing company—U.K.-based Emissions Analytics—and began emissions-testing many vehicles that pass through our revolving test fleet. Our prime motivation was to measure real-world fuel economy, which we’ve reported in many of our vehicle evaluations as Real MPG. But because Emissions Analytics’ proprietary EQUA testing procedure is functionally similar to the EPA’s (which determines fuel economy by capturing and analyzing the products of combustion), it would also reveal any cheating on other controlled emissions.
It’s report card time: How “clean” is the U.S. fleet, judged by our own EQUA measurements?
Of the 817 vehicles tested, none demonstrated a whiff of Volkswagen Dieselgate-style noncompliance in terms of regulated air pollutants from the tailpipe. Nitrogen oxides (NOx) emissions from the gasoline vehicles tested an average of 0.023 g/mile—less than half the regulatory limit for cars (0.050 g/mile). Even light- and medium-duty diesels from the last five years average just 0.036 g/mile. Looking at carbon monoxide (CO), gasoline and diesel vehicles emit just 0.267 g/ mile and 0.228 g/mile, respectively, compared to a regulated limit of 1.700 g/mile. Put simply, modern regulations have given rise to powertrain technologies that have slashed the amount of these pollutants expelled into the air.
Carbon dioxide (CO 2), however, remains a problem. In fact, since 2012, averaging all gasoline and all diesel vehicles, CO 2 has not improved at all for either fuel type. What has changed is the growth in the full-hybrid market. Hybrids with electric motors large enough to contribute meaningfully to propulsion are significantly more efficient than those without, so they emit less CO 2. The reason: CO 2 and mpg are closely linked—the higher your mpg, the lower your CO 2 emissions for any given fuel. So, broadly, if you are saving fuel, you are also saving the planet.
In fact, the hybrid economy improvements are dramatic in most vehicle segments, as shown in the chart below. Even as trucks and SUVs over the years replaced diesel cars, diesel variants delivered a 25 percent mpg boost, averaged over all the vehicles we tested since 2012. Hybrids, however, doubled this: a 48 percent increase. This equates to a one-third reduction in CO 2. Some segments, such as compact, midsize, and large sedans, delivered even bigger rises, with larger SUVs and pickups bringing down the overall average.
The increasingly popular SUV segments sit somewhere in the middle of the efficiency spectrum, with small gasoline SUVs averaging 24.1 mpg, while standard gasoline SUVs only achieve 19.8 mpg. Over time, however, gasoline SUV mileage has improved—and done so quicker than the market overall, as shown in the chart below. Engine efficiency improvements have helped SUV mileage rise by an average of 0.7 mpg per year over the testing period, compared to market rises of 0.2 mpg.
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