Government Proposes 'Report Cards' for Fuel Economy Window Stickers

Will consumers stay away from cars that get a “D” on the environment?

After many months of deliberation, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have released proposed ideas for new fuel economy labels that consumers see on windows of new vehicles. The designs recognize that advanced technology vehicles, from plug-in hybrids to electric cars, require a modified approach to communicating the benefits of various fuel-efficient technologies.

The boldest scheme uses a prominent report-card-style letter grade, ranging from A+ to D, to communicate overall fuel economy as well as greenhouse gas emissions. A second tier of information assigns a dollar value to the anticipated fuel savings over five years of a vehicle compared to the average vehicle on the road. A third tier provides an entire set of efficiency numbers of varying degrees of complexity depending on the type of technology in use.

Conventional gas-powered cars will carry familiar metrics such as city and highway MPG, but also add gallons per 100 miles, CO2 per mile, and anticipated annual fuel cost. For electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and natural gas-powered vehicles, the label will identify driving range, annual fuel cost, and a translated equivalent of MPG (referred to as MPGe). For plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt and the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, the label gets even more complex, featuring two rows: one for different modes of operation—such as when a plug-in hybrid is primarily using electricity and after it has depleted its batteries.

A second proposed label design retains the current label’s focus on miles per gallon and annual fuel costs. In this scheme, converting the efficiency of plug-in cars—which use electricity as fuel—into an MPG equivalent becomes paramount. In the sample design, the efficiency a plug-in hybrid (or “dual fuel vehicle”) is rated with an MPGe of 98 while using electricity during its first 30 miles of operation, and then 38 MPG when “electricity is used up.” Vehicle efficiency experts warn against “dumbing down” plug-in car efficiency to numbers that could be irrelevant or meaningless to consumers.

Both labels feature an innovative interactive tool for smart phones, which allows consumers to access additional information about efficiency and emissions. The federal agencies are also proposing that consumers visit a website to access information on upstream emissions associated with electricity generation and fuel refining—because the label only presents information about actual vehicle tailpipe emissions. Critics of plug-in cars question the environmental benefits of cars that run on electricity produced by burning coal.

DOT and EPA are providing a 60-day public comment period that begins with the proposal’s publication in the Federal Register. The agencies are encouraging public feedback on all aspects of the proposal.

See E.P.A. documents on the proposed designs:

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  • Shines

    I don’t think the signs will make much difference. I would guess most folks interested in fuel economy would research it ahead of buying. Those of us on this site wold be looking on line at fuel economy before walking into a dealership. I would suggest that all automotive advertising display fuel economy ratings somewhere in the ad, kind of like tobacco ads only in a positive light (for fuel efficient vehicles) – not so much for gas guzzlers. To bad the industry would never stand for it.

  • Anonymous

    The cost and ranking comparison would run into problems in the used car market when comparing cars from different model years.

    One addition issue is how do they represent PHEVs with blended EV operations? There might not be an “all electric range”.

  • Eric

    I don’t think it will make a huge difference, but educating the average consumer who doesn’t research ahead of time will help enlighten some and make them think twice about getting that guzzler. Especially when there is a big A on one and a C on another. Maybe I’m just an optimist, but it can’t hurt. I’m glad to see they are trying to help us make more informed decisions.

  • Anonymous

    I think it’s a good move and it will make a small difference if they use the bold approach of the report cars. True, many people don’t think much about fuel efficiency and environmental impact … but if they suddenly see a big sticker with a “D” in red on the care, where others get a “B” or “A” … some people might start thinking why that car is failing the grades ….

  • ACAgal

    I read the government document. I was surprised by how expensive Natural Gas is and that the range was also relatively short. I was also surprised that a PHEV running only on gas gets over 10 miles/gal more than gas.
    I have solar on my roof. Over the years I have had it, I’ve replaced dying appliances with high efficiency ones and now have a surplus in my account (Our state allows us to be repaid annually for surpluses). As my usual mileage is low, I could expect any EV fuel use to be “prepaid”, which is a pretty good incentive for buying EV or PHEV.

  • Lost Prius to wife

    Eric and Anonymous, I think in general you are right that for some it will not make a difference. But for the majority of buyers, it will help them to make better decisions as to which car to buy without doing the kind of research that most of the regulars on this site do. People not interested in researching vehicles may get the choice down to an “A” or “B” and choose the “A” strictly because of its “A” rating. This would help everyone by pushing people on the “edge” to buy more fuel efficient vehicles and lessening our dependency on foreign oil. And this would happen by just using the simple psychology of an “A, B, C” system. From looking at just the samples provided above, the provided “extra” data will be a way of helping to decipher which vehicles will best match the driving requirements for people like this site’s regulars. I am sure there will be a lot of discussions, arguments, and food for thought that will be expressed as to what is the best way to go on this site and others. Just as long as its progress towards more energy independency, any system will be better than none.

  • Ben from Europe

    This system exists in France from a least 2 years and combined with taxes penalty or fiscal credit this has been a success.

    see study from french institue for environment:
    –> Sales from vehicles in classes E, F or G fall and sales from vehicles in class B grew exponential.
    Thanks this policy has France the lowest average CO2 emission for vehicles in Europe: 133 g CO2 / km in 2009.

  • tapra1

    A second tier of information assigns a dollar value to the anticipated fuel savings over five years of a vehicle compared to the average vehicle on the road. Latest News

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  • alex789

    plz give some tips, How to increase fuel economy on my 93 Used Toyota Camry ?

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