Help the EPA and DOT Decide The Next Fuel Economy Label

Miles per gallon made plenty of sense when liquid (or in some cases, gaseous) fuels were the only thing propelling our cars, but as technology changes, the old metric is showing its age. Three decades after establishing it, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department Of Transportation have rolled out two options for an updated fuel economy label and they want your input.

The first and seemingly most controversial design is nothing like the window stickers you're used to. The vertical format (as opposed to the traditional horizontal layout) places the most emphasis on a letter grade. Ranging from "A+" to "D" and including plus and minus rankings, the grade will be determined based on the vehicle's fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. The grading scale will apply to all vehicles and will not reflect the different classes of vehicles, e.g. a letter grade of "B" will mean the same thing for a full-size SUV as it does for a compact car. Letter grades would be based on and apply to the model year, so a "B" grade on a 2010 sedan would be based on its performance compared to all 2010 model year vehicles while a "B" grade on a 2011 sedan would be based on 2011 models.

Under the current proposal, a grade of "B-" will represent the average with grades above and below reflecting better or worse fuel economy and emissions respectively. According to the EPA, a grade of "A+" would apply only to fully-electric vehicles while a grade of "A" would apply to plug-in hybrids. Conventional hybrids would receive an "A-" grade while traditional gasoline- or diesel-powered vehicles could only get a grade of "B+" at best. The scale would be adjusted in the future as vehicles become more and more efficient, in that a "B-" in 2010 would represent less efficiency than a "B-" in 2020.

According to EPA Assistant Administrator for Air and Radiation Gina McCarthy, vehicles like the Ford Fusion Hybrid and Toyota Prius would receive an "A-" grade while the Nissan Altima Hybrid and Volkswagen Golf would get a "B+". The Chevrolet Corvette and Silverado were given as examples of a "C" grade while the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti would get a "D". The scale does not include an "F" grade as a vehicle that failed to meet fuel economy and emissions standards wouldn't be allowed in showrooms to begin with.

The letter grade label would also include a raft of new information including gallons used per 100 miles driven, grams of carbon dioxide released per mile both as a number and on a scale, a scale showing "other air pollutants" and the traditional city and highway fuel mileage numbers. Annual fuel cost would also remain, along with a new estimate showing the average loss or savings in the cost of fuel that the vehicle would incur compared to the average "B-" vehicle. Hybrid and electric vehicles would get slightly different labels showing their range, miles-per-gallon-equivalent rating and kilowatt-hours of electricity used per 100 miles.

The other proposed label is far more traditional and places the emphasis on the well-known MPG scale, prominently displaying the city, highway and combined fuel economy information as well as the annual fuel cost. It would also include the gallons per 100 miles metric as well as the new slider scales showing CO2 and "other air pollutants" emissions and a slider comparing the vehicle's fuel economy to all other vehicles as well as its segment.

This label would also be adapted as needed to electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Both variants would include information on the vehicle's charge time and range and feature a miles-per-gallon-equivalent measurement for electric travel as well as an estimated annual electric cost and the kilowatt-hours of electricity used per 100 miles. Vehicles such as the Chevrolet Volt, which can travel both on pure-electric and gasoline power, would separate ratings for each mode.

Regardless of which label is adopted, the DOT, NHTSA and EPA are planning on providing you, the consumer, with more information than ever before. To keep the label from becoming too crowded, the agencies plan to create a comprehensive website with more specific information on each specific vehicle and its performance, as well as upstream emissions created in the manufacture and transport of the vehicle. Both labels will provide the web address, as well as a Smartphone QR Code that would allow a consumer to quickly scan the label with their cell phone and call up a website with more specific information on that vehicle.

Now, the ball's in your court. The EPA and DOT, after releasing the two competing designs today, are taking public comments on the designs for 60 days. Love the letter grades? Hate the colors? Can't stand horizontal layouts? Think there's some important piece of information missing? Email the EPA at newlabels@epa.gov and tell them what you think. The agencies will also hold a public hearing to take comments and suggestions some time before the 60-day window closes at the end of October.

Once public comments have been heard, the agencies will analyze them, make changes as necessary to the designs and choose a final design by the end of the year. The new labels will be implemented in early 2011 with the goal of having them on every new car by the 2012 model year, which will begin in the middle of 2011.

Once you're done telling the EPA what you think about their new labels, tell us. Love 'em? Hate 'em? Got a suggestion or two? Cast your vote and tell us why in the comments below.

And in case you were wondering, no, the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan Leaf still haven't been certified by the EPA and have no ratings yet on any scale.

Download the PDF with all the proposed design variants HERE.

Email the EPA with your comments at newlabels@epa.gov

Source: EPA, NHTSA

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