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Winter is coming, and average fuel economy is heading south

It happens every year, but it's still kind of a bummer to see.

The recent rise in oil prices is reflected in high gas prices at the pump at a gas station in Bethesda, Maryland. (Photo by Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty Images)
Brooks Kraft, Corbis via Getty Images

Not every month can be a good one for fuel economy. Despite continued advances in automotive technology, the whim of the market is what it is, and this month, it's clearly interested in purchasing fewer fuel-efficient vehicles.

The average fuel economy of a new car dropped for the third month in a row, according to data from researchers Michael Sivak and Brandon Schoettle at the University of Michigan's Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI). At 24.8 mpg, October 2016 is the worst October for fuel economy since 2012, and the trend doesn't appear to be reversing any time soon. Every winter, average fuel economy for new vehicle purchases falls.

We've been stuck in a period of stagnation for the last two and a half years or so. We've been hovering around 25 mpg, which isn't bad, and it's leagues ahead of where the country was when UMTRI started tracking these numbers in 2007. That said, this month is the worst it's been since 2013-2014, when economy briefly dipped below 25.0 mpg for about three months.

If you're the kind of person who likes ascribing blame for things, there are plenty of scapegoats from which to choose. Low gas prices have sustained the popularity of larger and thirstier trucks, SUVs and crossovers. Certain manufacturers are ditching whole car lineups in favor of those vehicles, because they're better for the all-important bottom line. Perhaps the current slew of fuel-efficient vehicles just isn't appealing to the majority of car buyers.

No matter what, though, fuel economy regulations will continue to tighten as automakers and governments around the world attempt to rein in carbon emissions. In my opinion, once we can make electrification viable for these larger vehicles, with the range and performance a normal family or individual needs, these numbers will start skyrocketing. We're in a bit of a weird middle spot at the moment, where the technology is still newish and isn't capable of providing benefits to as many vehicle buyers as possible.