Save money and help save the planet — buy a new car.
What sounds like an automobile industry marketing mantra actually comes from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a 1.3-million member environmental organization known for zealously guarding the air, land, water and wildlife.
In a new report, "Relieving Pain at the Pump," the council recommends as a remedy for $4 a gallon gasoline that consumers check out a "bumper crop of fuel-efficient cars" now in dealer showrooms.
"Drivers can start saving money immediately by trading in their gas guzzlers for today's gas sippers," the report says, noting there are 57 domestic and foreign models for 2012 that get better than 20 miles per gallon, including 15 at more than 30 mpg.
As federally mandated fuel efficiency standards keep rising, consumers will ultimately — in 2030 — save more than $68 billion on gas and cut carbon pollution by 297 million metric tons a year, the equivalent to emissions from 76 coal-fired power plants.
Californians would realize nearly $7.3 billion in net savings, subtracting the cost of fuel-efficient technology built into new cars from the savings on gasoline, the report says.
Henry Hansel, owner of six auto dealerships in Santa Rosa and Petaluma, said he's never heard of a green group boosting his business.
"That's a big deal," he said. "I was pleasantly surprised."
Angela Haulot of Cotati checked out a 2012 Ford Fusion that gets 33 highway mpg Sunday afternoon at Hansel Ford.
"I just sold my BMW so I'm looking for something that's more fuel efficient," she said.
The 2003 Beemer was a delight, Haulot said, but mileage is her overwhelming concern, "especially with these gas prices."
Consumers like Haulot no longer need pricey hybrids or electric cars for Earth-friendly transportation, said Luke Tonachel, a vehicles analyst who wrote the council's report.
Minivans, small SUVs and midsize cars featuring technologies like turbocharging, six-speed transmissions and lighter bodies have joined compacts and subcompacts on the council's list of fuel-efficient vehicles.
"They are a great value for consumers, and good for the air we breathe," Tonachel said.
Just three years ago, only 27 models were rated at 20 mpg or more, the report said.
But that same year, 2009, marked the introduction of President Barack Obama's two-stage program to boost fleet fuel efficiency standards: first to 35.5 mpg by 2016, then to a proposed 54.5 mpg by 2025.
The second stage, announced last year, is "the largest mandatory fuel economy increase in history," according to Popular Mechanics magazine.
The regulations will "save consumers boatloads of money they would've spent on gas, drastically reduce America's fuel consumption and carbon footprint and change the way cars are made," the magazine said.
By 2030, five years after the 54.5 mpg standard takes effect, U.S. oil consumption will be cut by 1.7 million barrels per day, the equivalent to the nation's combined imports from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2011, the council's report said.
Federal standards for fuel economy have been in place since 1978, but remained nearly unchanged — at about 25 mpg — from 1990 to 2010.
Throughout the 20th century, the U.S. ran on crude oil for about $20 a barrel, adjusted for inflation, yielding a seemingly endless supply of cheap gasoline.