U.S. Motor Vehicle Mileage, Fuel Consumption and Fuel Economy 1949 to 2016

Week 8 Datasource and Historical Background

Posted by David Velleca on April 26, 2018

Historical Background

This week's dataset looks at vehicle mileage, fuel consumption and it's associated economy. By 1949, the first year in this dataset, automobiles had been in the United States for more than 50 years. At this time, the infrastructure was improving to better support the growing number of automobiles in the nation, and would only improve within the next decade, with the Interstate Highway System making it's debut in Missouri in 1956. We'll skip the background on the Interstate Highway System, and instead look at the history of standards regarding fuel economy in the United States.

In the early 1970's, the OPEC Oil Embargo brought both fuel consumption and fuel prices to the attention of the American People. The fuel shortages and huge jumps in price at the gas pump also caught the attention of the federal government. The first regulations on the overall fuel economy of any automaker's fleet were established in 1975 with the passing of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards. Without going into too much detail here, these standards were intended to gradually increase the overall fuel economy of each automaker's fleet of production vehicles over time.

This first act of Congress persisted until 2007, when the Energy Independence and Security Act was signed into law by President George W. Bush. This new law mandated an average fuel economy of at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. In 2009, the Federal Goverment worked together with automakers and state regulators to develop a plan to implement the Energy Independence and Security Act. This plan is broken out into 2 phases, with the first wrapping up in model year 2016, and the second holding automakers to an emissions level of 163 grams per mile, or the fuel economy equivalent of more than 54 miles per gallon by 2025.

With this background and dataset, what can you visualize? What kind of data story can you tell?

Data Notes

There are a few notes on the data this week:

  • Light Duty Vehicles, Short Wheelbase: Until 2006, this data is for passenger cars, and includes motorcycles through 1989. From 2007, this class includes passenger cars, light trucks, vans, and SUVs with a wheelbase less than or equal to 121 inches.
  • Light Duty Vehicles, Long Wheelbase: From 1949 through 1965, these figures were included in the Heavy Duty Trucks category. Until 2006, this data includes all vans, pickup trucks, and SUVs with 2 axles and 4 tires. From 2007, this category includes large passenger cars, pickup trucks, vans and SUVs with a wheelbase greater than 121 inches.
  • Heavy Duty Trucks: Until 2006, this data includes single unit trucks, with 2 axles and 6 or more tires, and combination trucks. From 2007, the data includes trucks with 2 axles and 6 or more tires with a gross vehicle weight of more than 10,000 pounds.
  • All Motor Vehicles: For the entire period, includes busses. From 1989, includes motorcycles. These figures are not otherwise accounted for in the other categories.

Data Source

This week's data source comes from the United States Energy Information Administration, or the EIA.

Information used to write this historical background comes from the Union of Concerned Scientists.