Timeline: How cars have gotten cleaner

Reducing emissions with cleaner cars

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  • Moving toward cleaner cars

    Moving toward cleaner carsFor years, EDF and our allies have been working for cleaner cars. Illustration: Marika Cowan

  • 1970 — Gas was cheap, cars were big

    1970 — Gas was cheap, cars were bigBefore the oil embargo of 1973, gas was cheap and automakers had no incentive to build fuel efficient cars. A 1970 Pontiac GTO got 10 miles per gallon.1 If driven 50,000 miles, it created greenhouse emissions equal to almost 500 rail cars of coal.2

  • 1975 — First fuel economy standards

    1975 — First fuel economy standardsAfter the 1973 oil embargo, Congress passes the first fuel economy standards. Cars will need to increase efficiency to 27.5 mpg over the next 10 years. The new law creates a loophole for trucks – a loophole automakers will later exploit with SUVs.

  • 1984 — The SUV arrives, guzzlers are back

    1984 — The SUV arrives, guzzlers are backThe introduction of the Jeep Cherokee in 1984 launches the SUV era. SUVs are held to a lower fuel economy standard, and a dramatic increase in their sales drives overall fuel efficiency downward. A new Jeep Cherokee today gets about 16 mpg.3

  • 2000 — Invasion of the hybrids

    2000 — Invasion of the hybridsToyota launches a revolution with the introduction of the 50 mpg Prius hybrid to the American market. The car features a hybrid gas-electric motor, with brakes that recharge the battery. The Prius is a hit with consumers, selling a million by 2011.

  • 2002 — California dreamin’ (of cleaner cars)

    2002 — California dreamin’ (of cleaner cars)In 2002, we helped California pass its historic clean cars law, which tightened limits on climate pollution. We successfully defended the law in court from several challenges by automakers. In 2009, the EPA gave the green light for national rules based on California's.

  • 2011 — A major win for cleaner cars

    2011 — A major win for cleaner carsIn 2011, automakers agreed to more protective national limits on climate pollution and stronger fuel economy performance standards for model year 2017-2025 vehicles. The rules were finalized in August 2012.

  • 2025 — A new fuel-efficient generation

    2025 — A new fuel-efficient generationNew technologies will help automakers reach the 54.5 mpg target—such as, tires with lower rolling resistance, more efficient gearing and dual-clutch manual transmissions. Below: see how much you'll save!

How much will you save?

At today's gas prices, a driver who switches from a car that gets 27.5 mpg to one that gets 54.5 mpg will save on average:


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Our work on fuel economy

In 2002, we helped California pass its historic clean cars law, which tightened limits on climate pollution and paved the way for federal action.

Fourteen states followed California’s lead, and EDF successfully defended the new law in court from several challenges by automakers.

In 2009, EPA gave the green light to California’s landmark standards.

EDF urged the Obama administration to follow California’s example.

In 2011, automakers agreed to more protective national limits on climate pollution and stronger fuel economy performance standards for model year 2017-2025 vehicles. These rules were finalized in August 2012.