Auto Outlook: 2012 cars had highest ever 'real-world' mileage

By AL SWANSON, UPI Auto Writer  |  March 24, 2013 at 5:30 AM
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Owners of Honda cars got some bad news and some good news.

LoJack, the vehicle recovery company, said for the third consecutive year the Honda Accord was the most stolen and most recovered vehicle equipped with a LoJack system in 2012.

Following the Accord was the Honda Civic, Toyota Camry, Acura Integra, Toyota Corolla, Chevrolet Silverado, Cadillac Escalade, Nissan Maxima, Nissan Altima and Chevrolet Tahoe.

"According to the most recent [Uniform Crime] reports from the FBI, a vehicle is stolen every 44 seconds," the Massachusetts-based company said in its fourth annual vehicle thief recovery report. Law enforcement recovered nearly $125 million in stolen vehicles equipped with the tracing device, LoJack said.

California led the nation in thefts and recoveries followed by Texas, Florida, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Arizona, Maryland, Georgia and Washington.

Cars, trucks and SUVs with LoJack devices were recovered 94 percent of the time, said Patrick Clancy, vice president of law enforcement for LoJack Corp.

The report, based on data on stolen vehicles in 27 states, found the most stolen and recovered 2012 models were the Accord, Ford F-150 pickup, Toyota Camry, Toyota Corolla and the Honda Civic.

The most commonly stolen vehicle color was black and the least stolen color was blue. The oldest vehicle stolen and recovered was a classic 1956 Chevrolet Bel Air and the most expensive was a 2009 Bentley Brooklands worth $209,600.

The number of hybrid vehicles stolen and recovered rose 7.5 percent from 2011.

Real-world mileage, what a concept

Never mind the EPA/DOT Fuel Economy and Environment box on the top of Monroney sticker on the window of a new vehicle, just tell consumers what kind of combined mileage they can expect driving in and around town and on the freeway.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates model year 2012 cars and trucks get an average 1.2 mpg more than 2010 vehicles, with average fuel economy around 23.8 mpg.

Average is the operative word.

Fuel-efficiency is a range that to a great extent is determined by how a person drives. Accelerate like a jackrabbit and you can expect to make more stops at the filling station.

In preliminary data, EPA estimates overall mileage in 2011 fell by 0.2 mpg , partly because fewer fuel efficient vehicles were made in Japan after the country was hit by the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Fukushima.

The triple disaster two years ago cut production at Toyota and Honda, Japan's two largest automakers, by more than 500,000 vehicles. Flooding in Thailand that year further reduced the supply of auto parts.

Toyota and Honda both averaged 24.1 mpg in overall fuel-economy in 2011 while GM's overall fuel economy was 20.7 mpg.

"Because American car makers weren't doing their share, when natural disaster curtailed Japan's auto production, our overall fuel efficiency faltered," Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign at the Center for Auto Safety told the Los Angeles Times.

"This is a stark demonstration that despite GM's and Chrysler's claims, they still are not pulling their weight. They need better aerodynamics, better transmissions, better engines. This is not rocket science. It's auto mechanics."

Automotive experts are looking for improvements in traditional gasoline-powered vehicles to continue as manufacturers boost mileage with technologies like, turbocharging, direct-injection, 8-10 gear transmissions and stop-start systems that completely turn off the engine instead of idling.

Michael Omotoso, senior manager with LMC Automotive in Troy, Mich., told the Megatrends auto conference in Dearborn recently continuous improvement in gas engines "will continue to push plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles further into the future," the Detroit Free Press reported.

Industry experts said electric vehicles won't account for 1 percent of U.S. auto sales until 2018 and EVs won't be mainstream for a decade.

A Harris poll found 25 percent of U.S. consumers were interested in plug-in hybrids, but a report from McKinsey and Co. found about one in three Japanese owners of electric vehicles said they may not purchase another electric car.

Major impediments are the higher initial cost -- thousands for an electric car or hybrid -- and a lack of charging stations.

"Until prices drop to the point where the level of mass-market uptake stimulates infrastructure development, manufacturers must learn how to build customer loyalty to broaden the market for EVs," the study said.

More government mandates?

Regular unleaded gasoline averaged $3.63 a gallon nationwide in 2012 and the U.S. Energy Department projects gasoline prices should average around $3.55 a gallon this year.

The National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council says in a new report government-mandated fuel economy standards should keep increasing through 2050 and the government should slap more fees on gas guzzlers and consider higher gasoline taxes.

The report says it will take a concerted effort to wean motorists off use of imported oil and to promote alternative fuels like biomass and hydrogen with subsidies for technologies like electric vehicles.

The report estimates meeting the Obama administration's fuel-efficiency standard of 54.5 mpg by 2025 will cost automakers some $200 billion and says by 2050 cars and trucks should average 100 mpg.

That would be 95 mpg for passenger cars and 125 mpg for hybrids -- with zero-emission vehicles boosting the overall fleet mileage to 180 mpg at mid-century. The report also says the government should investigate ways to reduce the number of miles motorists drive.

Americans drove 2.9 billion miles in 2012 and that's forecast to increase to 5 trillion miles annually by 2050.

"To reach the 2050 goals for reducing petroleum use and greenhouse gases, vehicles must become dramatically more efficient, regardless of how they are powered," said Douglas Chapin, principal of MPR Associates and chairman of the committee that wrote the report.

"In addition, alternative fuels to petroleum must be readily available, cost-effective and produced with low emissions of greenhouse gases. Such a transition will be costly and require several decades. The committee's model calculations, while exploratory and highly uncertain, indicate that the benefits of making the transition, i.e., energy cost savings, improved vehicle technologies, and reductions in petroleum use and greenhouse gas emissions, exceed the additional costs of the transition over and above what the market is willing to do voluntarily."

Are 'quiet car' rules too complicated?

Trade groups representing U.S. and foreign automakers told the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration proposals to make electric and hybrid cars produce a warning noise are too complicated.

In January, NHTSA proposed requiring electric and other nearly silent vehicles to make warning sounds that could alert blind people, pedestrians and bicyclists of their presence, but carmakers say the rules would result in sounds "that are too loud and too complicated."

NHTSA estimates a pedestrian has a 19 percent higher chance of being in an accident with a nearly silent vehicle than with a gasoline or diesel-powered vehicle. The chance of a car-bicycle crash was 38 percent higher, The Detroit News said.

The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and Association of Global Automakers said as proposed by the government the alert sound would be louder than some sports cars. Manufacturers want the transportation department to revise the proposal before issuing a final regulation.

NHTSA estimates installing and programming a sound module to make the warning sound would cost about $35 per vehicle. As proposed, the vehicles would emit an alert sound while going 18.6 mph or less. Auto companies say the warning sound should only be heard up to 12.4 mph because of tire noise at higher speeds.

They also say the alert noise from an electric or hybrid vehicle could mask the sound of an approaching traditional vehicle.

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