The sources of fuel efficiency: a counterintuitive result

Matt Yglesias writes:

Via Andrew Sullivan, Eric dePlace notes that "You save more fuel switching from a 15 to 18 mpg car than switching from a 50 to 100 mpg car." And so you do. A 15 MPG car would require 1,000 gallons of gas to drive 15,000 miles while an 18MPG car could get it done in just 833 gallons. That saves 167 gallons of gasoline. By contrast, since a 50 MPG only uses 300 gallons to go 15,000 miles, upgrading to 100 MPG can’t save that much gas — the super-efficient car uses 150 gallons.

It is tricky, because the consumption basket and number of miles driven will not stay constant across alternatives, but this logic is worth keeping in mind nonetheless.