EPA to Stigmatize Gas Guzzlers with a D Grade?

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) are are jointly proposing the most radical changes to the fuel economy labels on the window of every new vehicle in dealer showrooms since the regulation began 30 years ago. 

New EPA, DOT label requirements might result in sticker shock - for makers.

The stated goal of the new fuel economy labels is to provide consumers with “simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons “across all types of vehicles, including electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and conventional gasoline-powered vehicles.

DOT and EPA said in a joint release that they are looking to provide enhanced information on efficiency and environmental performance, including information about air pollutants, such as smog, that impact public health to consumers.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 passed under Republican President Bush specifically calls on EPA and DOT to rate available vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants.

“New technologies such as battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids are entering the American market in greater numbers,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “We need to provide consumers with labels that include fuel economy and environmental information so that buyers can make better informed decisions when purchasing new vehicles.”

EPA and DOT are actually proposing two new label designs for comment during a rule making period that will be subject to intense behind the scenes lobbying by automakers in pay to play Washington.  At stake is the stigma of a bad label on the side of a vehicle.

One label design prominently features a letter grade, A+ to D, to communicate the vehicle’s alleged overall fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions performance. The new design will also provide consumers with an estimate of the expected fuel cost savings over five years compared to an average gasoline-powered vehicle of the same model year.

At first look the regulations appear to favor plug-in hybrids as the A+ leaders, in keeping with politicians’ current favored technology. Critics of course say that the government should not be promoting design standards, relying instead on performance standards while letting technologies fight it out in the marketplace and giving consumers a choice.

The second proposed label retains the current label’s focus on miles per gallon (MPG), a demonstrable bad way of measuring fuel consumption when compared to gallons per mile. Also included would be the current annual fuel costs label, while updating the overall design and adding the required new comparison information on fuel economy and emissions.

Either way, both proposed labels expand on the current content by including new information on fuel consumption, tailpipe carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions and smog-related emissions. The new labels would also provide information on a new web-based interactive tool that can also be accessed by smart phone. This would allow consumers to personalize the information about a vehicle’s performance.

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the agencies want to show energy use by translating electricity consumption into a mile per gallon equivalent. The proposed label designs for EVs also include energy use expressed in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

You can view the proposed rule and labels at: http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy. They can also review the proposed rule at http://www.nhtsa.gov/fuel-economy.

About Kenneth Zino

Ken Zino is an auto industry veteran with global experience in print, broadcast and electronic media. He has auto testing, marketing, public relations and communications expertise garnered while working in Asia, Europe and the U.S.
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