DETROIT -- The average fuel economy of new vehicles sold in 2012 rose to 23.8 mpg, University of Michigan researchers said today, up from 22.5 mpg in 2011 and the highest since the researchers began tracking full-year data in 2008.
Increased demand for cars and alternative-fuel vehicles last year contributed to the rise, University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle reported.
Average fuel economy is calculated based on mpg figures posted on window stickers of new cars and light trucks sold.
Cars are generally more fuel efficient than light trucks, which include pickups, SUVs, crossovers and minivans.
U.S. car sales rose 18 percent in 2012, outpacing the 9 percent gain in light-truck volume. Mid-sized sedans, compacts and minicars such as the Chevrolet Spark, Smart ForTwo, Fiat 500 and Scion iQ outpaced the overall U.S. light-vehicle market’s gains.
Fiat 500 sales more than doubled last year to 43,772 and Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid volume more than tripled to 23,461.
Toyota Motor Corp. said its hybrid sales jumped nearly 83 percent last year, with deliveries of the expanded Prius family rising 73 percent to 236,659.
Ford said its small-car sales soared 29 percent to 316,006 units last year, including 13,309 deliveries of the new C-Max Hybrid.
The average fuel economy for new vehicles sold in December was 23.9 mpg, up 3.8 mpg, or 19 percent, from October 2007, when researchers began tracking the data. However, it was down 0.2 mpg from November, likely reflecting recent reduction in the price of gasoline, the researchers said.
Separately, the University of Michigan Eco-Driving Index -- which estimates the average monthly emissions of greenhouse gases generated by an individual U.S. driver -- stood at 0.79 in October, unchanged from the revised level a month earlier.
The index, which takes into account vehicle fuel economy and distance driven, is calculated relative to the 1.00 base level in October 2007, when researchers began the index. The latest index level is a 21 percent improvement from October 2007.