EPA/USDOT Wants Our Input on Fuel Economy Stickers for New Cars

The E.P.A. is considering new "fuel economy stickers" for new cars.  This one is favored by the industry.  A better explanation of the stickers ##http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/gas-label-2.htm##can be found here.##
The E.P.A. is considering new "fuel economy stickers" for new cars. This one is favored by the industry. A better explanation of the stickers ##http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/gas-label-2.htm##can be found here.##

This Thursday, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is coming to town to hold a public hearing on the design of new fuel economy stickers that will be placed on “for sale” cars.  The agency, in partnership with the USDOT, will select either the sticker type pictured above, or a more simple “letter grade” sticker that would have an “A, B, C, or D” letter grade and a brief explanation of the grade. The new sticker will be the first change in environmental information given to consumers in three decades.  The hope is that by informing car buyers of the environmental consequences of their vehicle choice that they’ll make better choices.

The hearing details can be found at the end of the article.  If you wish to testify in person, you have to email lucie.audette@epa.gov ahead of time.  If you’d rather testify online, you can do so by clicking here.

At an earlier hearing on the new stickers held in Chicago, two familiar factions each backed a different sticker.  Environmentalists favor the “letter grade” sticker because its easy to understand.  The automobile industry prefers the more detailed yet confusing one pictured above.  Environmentalists seem thrilled that the government is considering an easy way to warn drivers away from the worst polluting vehicles.  Meanwhile, car dealers are worried.  After all, these stickers could end up being the “Surgeon General’s Warning” for cars.

This sticker is a lot easier to understand, but is it too simplisitic?  More information on this sticker ##http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/gas-label-1.htm##can be found here.##
This sticker is a lot easier to understand, but is it too simplistic? More information on this sticker ##http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/gas-label-1.htm##can be found here.##

Locally, the Sierra Club is urging people to come out and support the letter-grade stickers.  In a letter to supporters, the Sierra Club breaks down their position in what they hope to see in the final design for the stickers:

  • A prominent letter grade system, based on one scale for all vehicles – This simple system is easy to understand and compares all vehicles on the same scale.
  • Comparison of greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. Such a comparison shows
    environmental impact while still being applicable to all technologies. While electric vehicles do not emit any pollution through a tailpipe, emissions are generated to create the electricity that powers them. These “upstream” emissions should be shown on the window label.
  • Clear communication of economic costs and savings associated with driving the new vehicle.

On the other side of the issue, car buyers website Edmunds.com quotes a car salesman speaking at the Chicago hearing arguing that the speakers will speak to an audience that is ambivalent :

But Desmond Roberts, a Chicago area Chevrolet dealer who spoke as a representative of dealer organizations, argued that comparing all models by the same yardstick is “at best virtually of no value and at worst counterproductive” because it ignores buyer’s size, space and budget needs.

“They’re making decisions based on their family needs. Once they meet those needs, they look at other considerations,” Roberts said.

“The overwhelming majority of prospective vehicle purchasers focus on fuel economy only when fuel prices are relatively high and only as a relatively minor criterion when compared to other vehicle attributes,” he said, adding that even fewer buyers consider greenhouse gas emissions when shopping.

Of course, it’s quite a bit more difficult to ignore the environmental impact of one’s vehicle choices when a sticker on the car is warning you before the car is purchased that it’s a gas-guzzling rolling environmental disaster.

However, for many the issue isn’t that cut and dry.  Consumer Reports goes in to more detail on the debate, noting that requiring a measurement “milers per gallon” to be on cars is an out-dated way to look at how environmentally friendly a automobile is:

Both labeling strategies shift from measuring fuel economy in terms of miles per gallon to energy consumption. We think  distance traveled per unit of energy consumed, provides a better comparison between vehicles. (Read “Not all mpg’s are created equal.”)

The new stickers are designed to preclude the confusion that led General Motors to announce the extended-range Volt’s fuel economy as 230-mpg last year. The company used a calculation that didn’t count the electricity the car consumed and used a composite average driver who hardly ever filled up with gasoline. Nissan quickly countered with a claim of 327 mpg for the Leaf, which in fact uses no gasoline at all. At best, these claims are confusing, at worst, misleading. (Read: “2011 Chevrolet Volt highlights from Consumer Reports track”)

The basic problem, of course, is that electricity doesn’t come in gallons, which makes “mpg” a meaningless measurement for cars that run on electricity.

A poll at the bottom of the Consumer Reports article showed a divided readership on whether or not the EPA/USDOT stickers should carry a letter grade.  At press time, “without letters” was leading 52%-48%.

Hearing information:

On Oct 21st the U.S. EPA is coming to Los Angeles to take public comment on proposed new labels for passenger vehicles sold in the United States.  These labels would highlight fuel economy savings and give letter grades to cars, something that will help promote the sale of cleaner cars in our nation, and in California.  For more information please visit: http://www.epa.gov/otaq/cert/mpg/.

What: EPA and NHTSA Revisions and Additions to Motor Vehicle Fuel Economy Label Public Hearing

When: Thursday, October 21, 2010, 12-4 PM and 6-10 PM. Please try and let me know you preferred time.

Where: Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, 711 South Hope Street, Los Angeles, California 90017


  • Chris L

    That little “Best to Worst” bar in the lower-left is the best part. I love how they specifically pointed out that SUVs have the worst fuel economy.

  • How about just giving every car an F, since transit is more efficient, and bikes and feet don’t use any fossil fuels at all?

  • Erik G.

    The “fuel cost” amount needs to have a more prominent definition of what pump price it is based on. It was the $4.00+ per gallon prices that took enough out of the “drive to qualify” crowd’s budget to accelerate the foreclosure crisis. Perhaps there could be fuel costs based on various prices, not just the arbitrary “$2.80” per gallon. Gas hasn’t been that cheap in this area for a very long time.

    Showing th cost of replacing components (to maintain these fuel-economy numbers) like tires would help consumers. Not too many of them realize that the typical SUV tire costs 50% more than a sedan tire.

    Can it also list the amount of the USDOD budget required to ensure the flow of oil to this vehicle, and perhaps the amount this nation’s wealth that this vehicle will transfer, one-way, forever, to the bastions of human-rights found in present-day Venezuela, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia?

  • Carter R

    In an ideal world, I’d also like to see prominent information on how much energy it takes to make a new car. And, if you care about not adding greenhouse gasses in aggregate, you’ll get a relatively fuel efficient used car.

  • I like a hybrid option. The letter should stay, but not be so enormous. Option 2 has a much better layout.

  • Bikinginla misses an important point.

    Cars aren’t going away any time soon (let’s be realistic here) and it’s a good idea to have as much useful information as we possibly can. It’s like those nutritional information labels on the boxes of Chocolate Frosted Sugar Bombs.

  • I agree that the labels should reflect the life cycle environmental costs of using the car. However, I think most people are more concerned with the amount of money they’ll have to spend gassing it up.

    It’s also kind of ironic that if transit buses were getting these labels they’d all probably get Fs since they don’t have high fuel economy, but carry a lot of passengers (ideally) meaning they use (when lots of people ride) little energy per capita. I actually like the first label better, since it makes the annual fuel cost really prominent.

    Other than that, the major flaw is that the labels fail to use the metric system :)

  • You’ve got to be careful too. You might get conservatives taking pride in buying cars that “big government” gave a low grade to :)

  • Thanks very much for this informative recap! I remember when these were presented back in August, and I thought them a great advance over the existing sticker. We’re only now beginning to explore the potential of visual communication of data in all kinds of consumer contexts. The EPA sticker redesign represents an important advance because autos are an environmentally-unfriendly consumer product with substantial legacy safety costs too.
    I took the opportunity to closely examine the two designs, and came up with my own that I think builds on what EPA has presented but includes key safety information too.
    Find my article and window sticker design here:


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