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For the most part, marketing is comparing current models to recent models (of the past ten years) which is in fact an efficiency increase. A mid-size SUV does have better EPA ratings than one of similar size from late 90's.
Now that being said, yes, we could all be driving 48 MPG autos if our Chevy Cruzes still weighed the same as a 1976 Honda CVCC. But consumers are not just demanding efficiency, but also safety. Strong steel cages, air bags, etc all add to the weight. History has also shown us that cheaply outfited economy cars do not serve all demographics. To get some of us more senior or experience drivers in a small efficent car, you need to outfit it with some comforts. This isn't just an American idea, European compacts are not econoboxes.
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