Much less energy is used to manufacture a vehicle than is used by the vehicle during its useful lifetime so a small improvement in fuel efficency would have a significent impact on the energy footprint of
the motor vehicle industry.
A California-oriented paper http://www.environmentaldefense.org/documents/3986_CAautocarbonburden.pdf states that direct tailpipe emission of CO2 accounts for 68% of the average vehicle lifecycle carbon emissions, with 21 percent linked to production and delivery of fuel, and 11 percent are due to manufacturing, including materials production.
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