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.
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 Year||Make||Model||Real World Fuel Economy (mpg)||Engine Type|
From this dataset, we can identify three distinct approaches to maximizing fuel efficiency.
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.
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).
|Year||Insight Sales||Prius Sales|
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.
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.
Ranked: The World’s Top 10 Automotive Exporters (2000-2022)
Data from the World Trade Organization highlights the world’s 10 largest automotive exporters in 2022.
Ranked: The World’s Top 10 Automotive Exporters
According to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, over 85 million motor vehicles were built around the world in 2022.
In this graphic, we add context to this massive figure by ranking the world’s 10 largest automotive exporters. The list is based on data from the World Trade Organization (WTO) and includes countries from nearly every corner of the world, highlighting the global nature of the industry.
Top 10 Exporting Countries
The data we used to create this graphic is included in the table below. It represents each country’s share of the total export value of global automotive products in both 2000 and 2022.
“Automotive products” are defined by the WTO as motor vehicles, parts and accessories for motor vehicles, and internal combustion engines for propelling said vehicles. This grouping excludes motorcycles and trailers.
(% of world exports)
(% of world exports)
|🇰🇷 South Korea||2.6%||5.1%||+2.5|
From this list we can identify which countries have experienced the most growth or decline over the past 22 years.
Countries With the Most Growth Since 2000
The automotive exporters that grew their share of global value the most since 2000 are China (+7.7 pp), Mexico (+3.2 pp), and South Korea (+2.5 pp).
There are clear drivers behind each of these growth stories.
For example, China became the world’s largest car market back in 2009, which accelerated the growth of its domestic automakers. China is also home to some of the world’s biggest automotive suppliers, including Weichai (diesel engines), Hasco Automotive (drivetrain and air conditioning systems), and CATL (EV batteries).
Mexico, on the other hand, has grown its auto industry by enticing global brands to construct their factories there. The country’s competitive edge includes cheaper labor and a land border to the United States.
Finally there’s South Korea, whose growth is largely attributed to Hyundai Motor Company. The Seoul-based automaker recently became the third largest on a global basis, trailing only Toyota and Volkswagen.
Countries With the Biggest Decline Since 2000
The automotive exporters that declined the most since 2000 are Canada (-7.2 pp), Japan (-6.4 pp), and the U.S. (-2.6 pp).
Canada’s auto industry has experienced a steady decline in recent years, though new EV-related investments could turn things around. In March 2022, Stellantis and LG Energy Solutions announced the construction of a $3.5 billion EV battery plant in Windsor, Ontario.
Canada’s automotive industry is largely concentrated in the province of Ontario, which neighbors Michigan, the top state for U.S. car production.
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