CNN Fact Check: Obama on fuel economy: Your mileage may vary

Obama calls for unity

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    Obama calls for unity

Obama calls for unity 03:56

Story highlights

  • Obama administration issued new rules that would push automakers to make cars more fuel efficient
  • Automakers have until 2025 model year to hit goal

The statement:

"We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas ... "

That was part of President Barack Obama's appeal to continue pushing for new energy technologies during Tuesday night's State of the Union address, a line in which he also praised the expansion of renewable energy technologies like wind and solar electricity.

There are more high-mileage gasoline and hybrid-electric vehicles on the road. And automakers certainly have come a long way since the days when hulking, high-powered Detroit steel could pass anything but a filling station.

But doubled? CNN thought that claim was worthy of a road test.

The facts:

Watch Obama's State of the Union speech

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    Watch Obama's State of the Union speech

Watch Obama's State of the Union speech 59:47
GOP responds to the State of the Union

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    GOP responds to the State of the Union

GOP responds to the State of the Union 14:37
Rand Paul responds to State of the Union

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    Rand Paul responds to State of the Union

Rand Paul responds to State of the Union 13:29

There are some impressively efficient vehicles in production these days. The Ford C-Max and Toyota Prius plug-in hybrids get a combined city-and-highway rating of 58 miles per gallon from the Environmental Protection Agency. An electric Honda Fit gets the equivalent of 118 mpg.

More fact checks: Immigration | Obamacare | Wind energy

And back in August, the Obama administration issued new rules that would push automakers to make their entire fleets get comparable numbers. That regulation nearly doubles the mileage requirement for manufacturers, making them boost their corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) from the current standard of 29.7 mpg for cars and light trucks to 54.5 mpg.

But the automakers have until the 2025 model year to hit that goal. And while the average car made today is more of a gas-sipper than a guzzler, 54.5 is still a long way off: The average fuel economy of passenger vehicles sold in the United States averaged 33.8 mpg as of October, up from 24.7 in 2002 and 27.1 in 2008.

And the new rules have an escape hatch: If the industry has problems meeting the new standards, there's a review process that could reduce the target.


The Obama administration has told automakers to double their average mileage. That part's true. In terms of actual numbers, auto mileage is up, but most drivers still have a way to go before they can cut their fuel bills in half. As with a lot of things said in Washington, your mileage may vary.

      2013 State of the Union

    • WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 12:  U.S. President Barack Obama delivers his State of the Union speech before a joint session of Congress at the U.S. Capitol February 12, 2013 in Washington, DC. Facing a divided Congress, Obama focused his speech on new initiatives designed to stimulate the U.S. economy and said, "It?s not a bigger government we need, but a smarter government that sets priorities and invests in broad-based growth".  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

      The heart of President Barack Obama's speech Tuesday was the same focus that's driven every State of the Union of his presidency.
    • Obama shakes hands with House Speaker John Boehner before delivering the address.

      President Barack Obama launched three days of campaign-style speeches with a visit to a manufacturing plant that he said epitomized his proposals for job creation.
    • President Barack Obama is greeted before his State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, February 12.

      CNN asked viewers to post a #tweetoftheunion on Twitter summarizing Obama's State of the Union speech.
    • As with any State of the Union address, President Barack Obama had several audiences and there were multiple aims for the White House.
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      Claiming Barack Obama thinks a "free enterprise economy" is "the cause of our problems" -- not, as he sees it, the solution -- Sen. Marco Rubio argued that the president's proposals would hurt middle class citizens more than help them.
    •  	SPANISH FORK, UT - NOVEMBER 24: A car makes it's way up U.S. Highway 6 as several 2.1 mega watt wind powered turbines owned by Edison Mission Energy, sit a the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon November 24, 2008 in Spanish Fork, Utah. Each turbine is 300 feet tall, with three 150 foot blades. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Land and Minerals Management at the Department of the Interior, Michael D. Olsen, said the potential for production of wind energy on public lands in the West is 'tremendous,' with the alternative energy source already accounting for the fastest growing energy sector in the U.S. Last year the U.S. saw a 46 percent increase in wind capacity and $9 billion in new investments, he said. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

      President Barack Obama talked up alternative energy. Not only did he tout the solar and natural gas industries' recent gains, he also talked up the amount of wind energy that's now fueling the country.
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      From the Great Society to the Axis of Evil, here are historian Doris Kearns Goodwin's top State of the Union moments.
    • First Lady Michelle Obama, center, is recognized by the audience and special guests surrounding her before President Barack Obama's 2013 SOTU. Front row, left to right: Sgt. Sheena Adams, Nathaniel and Cleopatra Pendelton, Michelle Obama, Menchu de Luna Sanchez and Jill Biden. Second row, left to right: Governor John Kitzhaber, Deb Carey, Apple CEO Tim Cook, Amanda McMillan, and Lieutenant Brian Murphy.

      Earlier presidents delivered a written message to be read to Congress before the tradition became at TV event.