Historic Fuel Label Here — Mandated for 2013

The federal government’s recently announced design change on fuel economy labels is regarded as the most dramatic overhaul of the fuel economy label in its more than 30-year history. Although the goal is to get the new fuel stickers on the windows of 2012 cars and trucks, the new information is mandated to appear on all 2013-model-year vehicles.

The revised fuel labels are designed to keep pace with the new fuel efficient cars and trucks, such as the all-electric Nissan Leaf, that are coming to market. The window stickers will attempt to provide simple, straightforward information to help consumers make choices in an environment where conventional gasoline engine vehicles increasingly will share the roads with battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. The goal is to give consumers easy-to-understand energy and environmental comparisons across all types of these vehicles.

The current fuel label shows how many “miles per gallon” a vehicle gets and its estimated annual fuel cost. Comparisons are made among vehicle classes; sport-utility vehicles, for example, are compared to other sport-utilities.

The new labels, developed jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation, go above and beyond. They provide much more information, including estimated annual fuel costs, savings in fuel costs over five years compared to the average new vehicle, as well as information on each vehicle’s environmental impact in the form of greenhouse gas emissions and smog-forming pollutants. With the new labels, a vehicle’s fuel economy will be compared not only to comparable vehicles, but also to that of all other vehicles. Detailed information on labels is available at http://www.epa.gov/otaq/carlabel/index.htm

The one thing the labels won’t have is a simple letter grade of A+ to D to illustrate how well the vehicle performs in terms of its overall fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The label with a letter grade was one of two designs floated for public comment last fall. Some environmental groups wanted the letter designation, automakers however did not.
While applauding the new labels for helping inform consumers so that they can make better choices when buying a car, Michele Robinson, director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ clean Vehicles Program, chided the government agencies for not choosing to go with a letter grade.

In a statement Robinson said: “The new labels would have been even better if the auto industry had not pressured the agency to drop plans to give each car a letter grade, which would have been the simplest, most effective way to communicate what consumers should look for in a vehicle.”

On the other hand, the Environmental Defense Fund praised what it called the “consumer-friendly” design of the new labels and a numerical ranking system for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions into one clear designation on a scale of 1 to 10.

Electric vehicles will get the best ratings for greenhouse gas and smog, but these ratings do not take into account the power plant emissions necessary to generate the electricity necessary to recharge them. However, by using a new interactive tool at the EPA’s web site, www.fueleconomy.gov, consumers will be able to enter their zip code and estimate the greenhouse gas emissions that come from charging and driving a plug-in hybrid or electric car where they live.

The labels are quite “busy” and contain a lot of information. Information is good; but it would be a good idea to become more familiar with the new labels before shopping for a new car or truck. Until the required mandate takes full effect in 2013, there is plenty of time to visit the EPA site. — Cheryl Jensen, Motor Matters

Copyright, AutoWriters Associates Inc., 2011

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