"In the 1970s, '80s and '90s, carmakers all offered super-high-efficiency cars," says Eric Noble, president of the Car Lab, an auto industry research and consulting group. "Now that consumers are clamoring for them, those cars are pretty much all gone."
For the 1992 model year, car buyers had the choice of 33 cars that had a combined city and highway EPA rating of at least 30 miles per gallon. For the current model year, there are 12. And though the 1990s had its share of gas guzzlers, it's notable that the two-wheel-drive Ford Explorer from 1992 had better fuel efficiency (17 mpg) than the same model in 2008 (which gets 16).
With demand for efficiency surging, carmakers are racing to improve their lineups. General Motors Corp., which currently doesn't have any cars that top 30 mpg combined, said last month that it would spend $500 million to produce a new compact car for 2011, the Cruze, that would reach 45 mpg on the highway. That's about 13 mpg below the rating for its most fuel-efficient Geo Metro 14 years ago.