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The average fuel consumption of new vehicles rose to 10.3 litres for every 100 kilometres travelled last year from 10.28 litres in 2014.DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

The steady improvement in fuel economy in the Canadian vehicle fleet has ground to a halt amid the drop in gasoline prices and the surge in popularity of crossovers and pickup trucks.

The average fuel consumption of new vehicles rose to 10.3 litres for every 100 kilometres travelled last year from 10.28 litres in 2014. That deterioration reversed the improvement in fuel economy since 2011, when new vehicles on average took 10.91 litres of gas to travel 100 kilometres.

The data were compiled by DesRosiers Automotive Consultants Inc.

The deterioration in fuel economy follows increased consumer demand for vehicles that are less fuel-efficient and a sharp drop in demand for vehicles that are among the least thirsty for gasoline.

At the same time, government regulations require auto makers to offer more fuel-efficient cars and trucks as a key part of the strategy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Vehicle companies are spending billions of dollars to develop hybrids, electric vehicles and fuel-cell-powered engines to meet those goals.

Given the shift in consumer demand to crossovers, sport utilities and pickup trucks since the price of oil began tumbling in 2014, the fuel economy picture should be worse, said Dennis DesRosiers, president of the consulting firm.

"Consumers moved away from small gas misers to bigger, less fuel-efficient vehicles, but those bigger vehicles are so much more fuel-efficient than the previous [models]," he said.

That's because auto makers have been improving the performance of internal combustion engines, which has helped to offset the impact of increased sales of pickups and utilities.

The efficiency of internal combustion engines has been improving by 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent annually since 2006, he noted.

The improvements made to the century-old internal combustion engine bring into "question the strategy of pushing hybrids and battery-electric and zero-emission vehicles," he said.

What policy makers did not foresee was the plunge in oil prices that has pulled the price of gasoline down below the $1-a-litre level in much of Canada and to less than $2 (U.S.) a gallon in many parts of the United States.

The impact is evident in vehicle sales figures.

Full-sized pickup trucks represented 18.5 per cent of Canadian vehicle sales in March, compared with the long-time average of about 15 per cent.

Sales of the F-Series pickup by Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. were the highest of any month in the company's history in March. More than half the buyers of Ford vehicles in Canada last month bought an F-Series.

Sales of subcompact cars have hit the skids. They fell 16 per cent in the first two months of 2016 from year-earlier levels.

Sales of fuel-sipping hybrid vehicles have fallen by 8,000 units in the past three years, Mr. DesRosiers said, and Canadians buy about 3,000 electric vehicles a year in an overall market that hit 1.89 million vehicles last year.

The infatuation governments have for electric vehicles and hybrids is "highly misplaced," he said. "A better strategy would be to get consumers to buy a new vehicle and get their old vehicle off the road."

Vehicles more than 10 years old are at least 20 per cent less fuel-efficient than new or redesigned versions of the same vehicle, he said.

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