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2013 Nissan Altima (Nissan)
2013 Nissan Altima (Nissan)

Driving it home

Canadian gas consumption declines – but don’t thank fuel-sipping auto makers just yet Add to ...

Just as Nissan Canada was touting the fuel-sipping prowess of the all-new 2013 Nissan Altima – best-in-class fuel economy figures of 5.0 litres/100 km highway – DesRosiers Automotive Consultants announced that Canadians used less gasoline in 2011 than in record-setting 2010.

So should we connect the dots? Did we see a decline in fuel consumption as a result of auto industry efforts to make new vehicles more fuel efficient? I mean, when the 2013 Altima hits showrooms later this summer it will be the most fuel efficient vehicle in the entire Nissan lineup, other than the battery-powered LEAF.

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“In the short term, we do not expect the increased fuel efficiency of new vehicles to impact gasoline usage appreciably,” said DesRosiers president Dennis DesRosiers in a note to clients.

That’s because new vehicles use only a small portion of all the gasoline consumed in Canada each year (7.2 per cent in 2011). DesRosiers expects more fuel efficient new vehicles will “incrementally” reduce fuel usage over time, but not right away. In the big picture, “Gasoline sales correlate broadly with the number of light vehicles registered for use on Canadian roads. This metric has been on a continual upwards trajectory during the past decade, with 22.5 million light vehicles registered in 2011 (+2.3 per cent).” In other words, the more vehicles on the road, the more gas we burn.

It’s truly astonishing how much gasoline was sold and presumably burned in Canada last year: 38,208,346 cubic meters or 38,208,346,000 litres of gasoline, versus 38,810787 cubic metres in 2010, for a 1.6 per cent decline year-over-year.

“This decline represents the most significant usage drop in our time series and comes on the heels of an above average 2009-2010 gain (+2.7 per cent),” said DesRosiers.

Nissan is among the many auto companies claiming to do its part in cutting into the billions of litres of gas burned in Canadian cars each year.

“The all-new Nissan Altima’s best-in-class fuel economy is largely attributed to Nissan’s next-generation Continuously Variable Transmission [CVT],” says the car company. “For this next-generation design, a full 70 per cent of the parts have been redesigned and internal friction has been reduced by up to 40 per cent [versus the previous design].” The Altima has lost weight, too. The new body is 32 kilograms lighter than the previous one.

In Nissan’s world, the Altima is now thriftier on the highway than the pint-sized Versa subcompact and everything else in the lineup. Here are the numbers (litres/100 km) for the top five most fuel efficient vehicles at Nissan, barring the electric LEAF:

  • 2013 Altima: 7.4 city/5.0 highway
  • 2012 Versa sedan 1.6 CVT: 6.7 city/5.2 highway
  • 2012 Versa hatchback 1.8 CVT: 7.2 city/5.7 highway
  • 2012 Sentra 2.0 CVT: 7.6 city/5.7 highway
  • 2012 Juke 1.6 CVT: 7.5 city/6.1 highway
  • 2012 Cube 1.8 CVT: 7.5 city/6.3 highway

 

Nissan is hardly alone. The midsize Altima sedan is just the latest example of how car companies are reducing fuel consumption in even relatively big cars by downsizing engines, refining and even reinventing transmissions, cutting weight, moving to more aerodynamic designs and more. Ford will soon be selling a new Fusion sedan with a 2.0-litre four-banger, as will Chevrolet, when the 2013 Malibu goes on sale here.

And let’s not forget that when Kia reinvented the Optima and Hyundai remade the Sonata – both midsize sedans – the six-cylinder engines were dropped in favour of a family of four-bangers – with turbocharging an option for those who want power, and hybrid drive versions available for those focused on fuel economy.

With those sorts of developments, we may yet see a time when, year after year, Canadians use less gasoline, even as the population grows and the number of cars on the road rises.

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