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The Most Fuel Efficient Cars From 1975 to Today

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Most Fuel Efficient Cars

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The Most Fuel Efficient Cars From 1975 to Today

When shopping for a new car, what is the most important factor you look for? According to Statista, it’s not design, quality, or even safety—it’s fuel efficiency.

Because of this, automakers are always looking for clever ways to improve gas mileage in their cars. Beating the competition by even the slimmest of margins can give valuable bragging rights within a segment.

In this infographic, we’ve used data from the EPA’s 2022 Automotive Trends Report to list off the most fuel efficient cars from 1975 to today.

Editor’s note: This is from a U.S. government agency, so the data shown skews towards cars sold in North America.

Data Overview

All of the information in the above infographic is listed in the table below. Data was only available in 5-year increments up until 2005, after which it switches to annual.

Model YearMakeModelReal World Fuel Economy (mpg)Engine Type
1975HondaCivic28.3Gas
1980VWRabbit40.3Diesel
1985ChevroletSprint49.6Gas
1990GeoMetro53.4Gas
1995HondaCivic47.3Gas
2000HondaInsight57.4Hybrid
2005HondaInsight53.3Hybrid
2006HondaInsight53Hybrid
2007ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2008ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2009ToyotaPrius46.2Hybrid
2010HondaFCX60.2FCEV
2011BMWActive E100.6EV
2012Mitsubishii-MiEV109EV
2013ToyotaiQ EV117EV
2014BMWi3121.3EV
2015BMWi3121.3EV
2016BMWi3121.3EV
2017HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2018HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2019HyundaiIoniq Electric132.6EV
2020Tesla3138.6EV
2021Tesla3139.1EV

From this dataset, we can identify three distinct approaches to maximizing fuel efficiency.

Downsizing

Prior to 2000, the best way for automakers to achieve good fuel efficiency was by downsizing. Making cars smaller (lighter) meant they could also be fitted with very small engines.

For example, the 1985 Chevrolet Sprint was rated at 49.6 MPG, but had a sluggish 0-60 time of 15 seconds.

Hybrids

The 2000s saw the introduction of mass-market hybrid vehicles like the Honda Insight and Toyota Prius. By including a small battery to support the combustion engine, automakers could achieve good MPGs without sacrificing so heavily on size.

While the Insight achieved better fuel economy than the Prius, it was the latter that became synonymous with the term “hybrid”. This was largely due to the Prius’ more practical 4-door design.

The following table compares annual U.S. sales figures for both models. Insight sales have fluctuated drastically because Honda has produced the model in several short spans (1999-2006, 2009-2014, 2018-2022).

YearInsight SalesPrius Sales
2005666107,155
2006722106,971
20073181,221
2008-158,884
200920,572150,831
201020,962140,928
201115,549136,464
20126,619236,655
20134,802234,228
20143,965207,372
20151,458184,794
201667136,629
20173108,661
201812,51387,590
201923,68669,718
202015,93243,525
202118,68559,010
20227,62833,352

Source: goodcarbadcar.net

The Prius may have dominated the hybrid market for a long time, but it too has run into troubles. Sales have been declining since 2014, even setting historic lows in recent years.

There are several reasons behind this trend, with one being a wider availability of hybrid models from other brands. We also can’t ignore the release of the Tesla Model 3, which began shipping to customers in 2017.

Electric Vehicles

We’re currently in the middle of a historic transition to electric vehicles. However, because EVs do not use fuel, the EPA had to develop a new system called MPGe (miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent).

This new metric gives us the ability to compare the efficiency of EVs with traditional gas-powered cars. An underlying assumption of MPGe is that 33.7 kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity is comparable to the energy content of a gallon of fuel.

The most fuel efficient car you can buy today is the 2023 Lucid Air, which achieves 140 MPGe. Close behind it is the 2023 Tesla Model 3 RWD, which is rated at 132 MPGe.

Check out this page to see the EPA’s top 10 most efficient vehicles for 2023.

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Automotive

Mapped: Where Tesla and BYD Make Their Cars

We map the locations of Tesla and BYD’s present and future EV factories, along with their estimated maximum output.

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Mapped: Where Tesla and BYD Make Their Cars

This was originally posted on our Voronoi app. Download the app for free on iOS or Android and discover incredible data-driven charts from a variety of trusted sources.

In 2023, Tesla and BYD were the world’s two largest electric vehicle (EV) companies by a large margin, holding 19.9% and 17.1% market shares respectively.

With no other company able to match their scale, these two automakers have found themselves locked in a competition for the global EV crown. In Q4 2023, BYD outsold Tesla for the first time ever by 41,000 vehicles (526,000 vs 485,000). In Q1 2024, however, their positions were switched after Tesla outsold BYD by 87,000 vehicles (387,000 vs 300,000).

To gain insight into this rivalry, we’ve visualized the locations of both companies’ present and future EV factories, along with their estimated maximum annual output. Figures come from a variety of sources, and represent the latest information pertaining to planned production facilities (as of April 2024).

Tesla’s EV Factories

Starting with Tesla, this graphic highlights the locations of their four operational factories. Gigafactory Shanghai is the largest in terms of production output, at 750,000 vehicles per year.

Note that Gigafactory Nevada is not on this list because it produces battery cells, rather than finished vehicles.

CompanyLocationMax Annual OutputEst. Completion
Tesla🇺🇸 Fremont, CA650,000--
Tesla🇺🇸 Austin, TX250,000--
Tesla🇩🇪 Berlin, Germany250,000--
Tesla🇨🇳 Shanghai, China750,000--
Tesla🇲🇽 Monterrey, MexicoTBD2026

Tesla’s China factory is unique in that it’s fully owned by Tesla itself, rather than a joint venture with a local company.

Looking to the future, Tesla’s next factory will be Gigafactory Mexico, which was announced (with few details) in March 2023. According to reporting by Electrek, the Mexican government is eager for the factory to begin construction, despite CEO Elon Musk voicing concerns about today’s high-interest rate environment.

BYD’s EV Factories

Although EV demand is not growing as quickly as it was in previous years, BYD is putting the pedal to the floor when it comes to global expansion. The company has announced factories in various regions including Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America, all to be completed within this decade.

CompanyLocationMax Annual OutputEst. Completion
BYD🇨🇳 China (various cities)3,000,000+--
BYD🇹🇭 Raong, Thailand150,0002024
BYD🇧🇷 Camaçari, Brazil150,0002025
BYD🇭🇺 Szeged, HungaryTBD2027
BYD🇮🇩 Indonesia (city unknown)150,000TBD
BYD🇲🇽 Mexico (city unknown)TBDTBD

BYD produced over 3 million electric vehicles in 2023 (BEV, PHEV, and HEV). Given that it had no international factories running during that year, we assume that BYD has the capacity to produce at least 3 million vehicles in China.

Government Subsidies Help Fuel Expansion

If you’re wondering how BYD is funding these ambitious plans, consider this: a recent study by Germany’s Kiel Institute determined that BYD has received over $3.7 billion in subsidies from the Chinese government.

For perspective, this online subsidy tracker reports that Tesla has received $2.8 billion in government subsidies. A large share of this amount ($1.6 billion) was awarded by the state of Nevada, which is where Tesla’s first gigafactory is located.

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