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Damn you, cheap gas: Average US new-car fuel economy dips again

Recent dips in gas prices have sent buyers scrambling back to trucks and crossovers.

Reports indicate The average U.S. retail price rose 13 cents over the past two weeks to $3.42 per gallon, and within a few days it will likely set a record for this time of year. The culprits: Rising crude oil prices, slowing output at refineries that are undergoing maintenance, and low supplies of gasoline. (Photo by Michele Eve Sandberg/Corbis via Getty Images)
Michele Sandberg, Corbis via Getty Images

Each month, the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI) tracks sales-weighted fuel economy ratings of new cars purchased in the US. Its data goes back to October 2007, and there have been solid gains since it began. Last month bucked that trend, though, and as a result we've seen the average fall once again.

Thankfully, it's not that big of a dip. May 2016's value was 25.4 miles per gallon, and June's is but 25.3. It's not necessarily surprising, either -- over the last year, we've seen the graph take a bit of a downturn as gas became cheaper and more Americans jumped on the crossover bandwagon. Sadly, that bandwagon contains no actual wagons, because we refuse to buy them for whatever silly reason.

The chart peaked in August 2014, when average economy was 25.8 mpg. That's also when gas was outrageously expensive, with the national average around $3.70 per gallon. As the price has gone down, buyers have moved away from more fuel-efficient vehicles.

We've been in a sort of holding pattern for about a year now, with average fuel economy rising and falling several times. It's likely that the 2016 model year average will hold steady, as it has done for the two model years before that. Unless gas prices shoot back into the ionosphere, we're likely to see stagnation until automakers start ramping up fleet fuel economy ahead of tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) regulations, which is set to happen in the next decade.

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