Fuel efficiency is a major selling point for many car buyers, but it can be misleading. Fuel consumption varies widely based on how one drives. While average fuel consumption statistics are helpful information, it’s easy to forget that last point.
Most automakers have adopted fuel economy gauges as standard equipment. Roughly 92 percent of 2011 vehicles were equipped with these meters, which allow drivers to view fluctuations of fuel use in real time (the meters are imperfect, but still give drivers a good sense of how much fuel they are using). Given that it is easy to get worse fuel economy with a car that has an impressive fuel economy rating than one with a middling rating if the driver is driving erratically, instant driver feedback likely has more room to improve actual fuel economy than mandating better average fuel economy ratings.
On a recent drive from Winnipeg to Minneapolis I used an average of 8.2 liters per 100km. I found myself driving much slower and much steadier than I typically would have on the highway pre-fuel efficiency gauge. I know full well that driving fast and aggressively burns more gas, yet the simple nudge of quantifying this information for me instantly affected my behaviour. The consumption would have been even better, had I not rushed for the last 100 miles or so (I was at or above 9 liters/km for that stretch). I was hovering around 6 liters per 100km when I wasn’t in a rush (the manufacturer lists it as 5.7 liters/km during highway driving). This was in a 2012 Corolla CE, which is considered an “intermediate” size car. Contrast this with my experience travelling between the two cities in a Prius, which used 5.6 liters/km when on cruise control, but 7.5 when driving less cautiously.
Bottom line: what you’re driving is often as important as how you’re driving it. Giving consumers information — which manufacturers are doing — is a zero cost alternative to imposing increased costs on manufacturers. The more acutely aware drivers are of how much fuel they are using, the more they’ll demand economical cars and attempt to maximize fuel economy when driving.