Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Optimal Vehicle Speeds for Best Fuel Economy

I found an interesting figure. If this calculation is accurate, the potential oil savings by speed limit regulations on highways will be greater than have been thought.
The figure is from a master's thesis of an MIT student. The author simulated optimal fuel economy of four vehicle models using the Powertrain System Analysis Toolkit (PSAT) developed by Argonne National Laboratory (ANL).

Fuel consumption versus cruise speed for steady-speed driving is simulated as the following figure.

Maybe some of you are not familiar with the metric system (kph or l/km). When the figure is translated into mpg and mph, the optimal speed and fuel consumption of the four vehicles are (from a data table on page 65 of the thesis),
Model Optimal Speed Range (mph) Fuel Economy at Optimal Speed (mpg)
Honda Civic 34-39 71
Ford Focus 39-43 45
Honda Accord 30-39 59
Ford Explorer 40-47 35

It's amazing. It's too good to be true. However, even if the simulation overestimated Civic's 71 mpg, it is evident that vehicles' fuel-efficient speeds are well below most highway speed limits (55-75 mph).

I had better avoid highways, when I am not in a hurry.

Source: Berry, I. M. (2010). The Effects of Driving Style and Vehicle Performance on the Real-World Fuel Consumption of U.S. Light-Duty Vehicles. Masters thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA. Retrieved from

Unit conversion:
1 mile = 1.609344 kilometers
1 gallon = 3.78541178 liters


  1. I applaud your analysis. One of the best answers on this question.

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  3. I am guessing the speed has to be constant. Street driving may have many stops, negatively affecting the mpg. After each stop the car will require a lot of energy to get moving again lowering the mpg.

    There should be a freeway lane for mpg saving speed.

    When I drive on a freeway with traffic jams that are slow but still moving I get my best mpg.