WASHINGTON -- Fuel efficiency of new passenger cars sold in the United States hasn't bounced back to the peak it reached in 1988, said the Public Citizen consumer group in a report released yesterday.
"In 1989, the average new car fuel efficiency actually slipped from the 1988 high of 28.8 mpg [miles per gallon] to 28.4 mpg and dipped again in 1990 to 28.1 mpg," the report said. "Although pre-model year estimates for the 1991 new car fleet suggest a marginal increase to 28.2 mpg, this figure may drop as complete data are obtained."
Public Citizen blamed automobile manufacturers for building and promoting big cars with poor mileage ratings and the Reagan and Bush administrations for "rolling back" fuel efficiency standards.
"Both Detroit and Washington must do their part for national security by making cars more fuel efficient," said Joan Claybrook, president of Public Citizen.
The 1991 car models with the lowest gas mileage were European cars with rear-wheel drive. With city ratings of 9 to 12 mpg and highway ratings of 14 to 17 mpg, the thirstiest gas guzzlers were the Lamborghini DB132 Diablo, five Rolls Royce models (Bentley, Bentley Turbo R, Silver, Bentley Continental, Corniche III), the Ferrari Testarossa; Aston Martin Virage Saloon automatic lock-out and manual models, and the Ferrari F40.
The 1991 car models with the best mileage ratings were built in Japan or the United States and are front-wheel drive. With city ratings of 53 to 39 mpg and highway ratings of 59 to 43 mpg, the 10 most efficient gas-sippers were the Geo Metro XFI, Honda Civic CRX HF SIL, Chevrolet Sprint MS, Suzuki Swift (3-cylinder), Geo Metro LSI, Pontiac Firefly, Geo Metro, Honda Civic CRX HF, Geo LSI Convertible, and Suzuki Swift (4-cylinder).
The Senate is considering a bill which would require manufacturers to raise the average fuel efficiency of their fleets to 40 mpg by the year 2000. The Bush administration says that standard is too tough.
Ms. Claybrook said Public Citizen backs an even higher standard -- 45 mpg for the year 2000.
The only way to do that would be through "another major wave of downsizing by as much as 1,000 pounds per vehicle, doubling the small car population and drastically limiting the availability of larger vehicles," said the Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association.
In a statement issued by its Washington office, the association said several academic studies "all lead to the same conclusion -- a fleet dominated by small cars would result in major increases in highway deaths and injuries."
The Public Citizen report said the government should require that new cars be smaller, lighter, and with air bags on driver and passenger sides. Proper design can overcome safety problems associated with size and weight, the report maintained.
It also said Americans should reduce their reliance on the automobile and use mass transit, car pooling, bicycles and walking more often.
Other recommendations included returning to the 55 mph speed limit on rural interstate highways, expanding the use of cleaner burning fuels such as ethanol and natural gas, and encouraging the production and use of solar-powered cars.
"Without government pressure to improve efficiency, the auto industry is going backward," Ms. Claybrook said.