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North American fuel economy worst in world despite lightweighting efforts

Traffic on Interstate 80/94. A study found that North America has the worst fuel economy in the world.

Northwest Indiana's steel mills have been cranking out more and more advanced high-strength steel grades for years, aiming to help automakers lighten vehicles and lower emissions.

The Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch has started to manufacture its first hybrid, the Police Interceptor Utility Hybrid SUV.

But despite the ongoing efforts of Region companies to reduce the carbon footprint, a report by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, the International Energy Agency and the International Council on Clean Transportation found North America has the worse fuel economy in the world.

Global fuel economy has improved by an average of 1.7% per year over the last 12 years, but that has slowed to 1.4% over the past two years largely because of a slowdown in vehicle fuel economy improvements in advanced economies.

"A significant barrier to fuel economy improvements has been the growing market share of sport‐utility vehicles and pick‐ups, whose market share increased by 11 percentage points over the last three years — SUVs now represent nearly 40% of the global Light Duty Vehicle market," the Global Fuel Economy Initiative said in a press release.

"North America and Australia have a particularly high market share of SUVs, reaching almost 60% in 2017. While all vehicles types saw improvements in their fuel efficiency, the shift in market shares to these larger, less efficient vehicles pulled down average vehicle fuel economy."

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International Energy Agency Executive Director Fatih Birol said the findings were cause for alarm.

"Improving vehicle fuel efficiency saves money, cuts carbon emissions while also reducing harmful air pollution and boosting energy security," he said.

"Much more effort will be needed to reverse the slowdown and put the world on track to meeting its energy security and sustainability objectives."

Foundation for the Automobile and Society Foundation Deputy Director Sheila Watson said it was vital to double fuel efficiency by 2030.

“We know the environmental challenge we face," Watson said.

"Unless countries take serious, concerted action on the CO2 emissions from their vehicle fleets, there will be devastating consequences, and improving vehicle fuel economy is a vital part of that process. Unless policies are introduced which curb the trend towards ever larger, combustion powered vehicles, and promote smarter alternatives, we will continue to fail to make progress towards GFEI’s targets, and our climate will suffer as a result.”

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.