Countdown to Better Consumer Labeling for New Cars

(Just posted on our sister blog Way2Go by Kathryn Phillips)

Car Lot

Photo by Alex92287

The 60-day countdown for submitting your vote online about the best car label design has officially begun. Today the federal register published the official notice inviting comment on the government’s proposed changes to the information labels posted on new cars. The agency has also scheduled two public hearings to collect opinions about the labels—in Chicago on October 14 and in Los Angeles on October 21.

As we reported about three weeks ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has offered up two new designs to replace the old fuel economy label. The new designs reflect the most significant change in the 30 years since automakers began attaching the information labels to new cars.

Both of the proposed designs still have fuel economy information. But they both also have something new: details about how much greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution will be generated by the auto or light truck on which the sticker is affixed. For the first time ever, consumers living all over the country will be able to easily, while on the car lot shopping, compare the environmental impact of vehicles. It makes shopping greener simpler.

The two label options are not entirely equal, though. One option provides a bit more information about fuel costs and savings, and it includes a letter grade.

The grade has been drawing a lot of attention and there have been some confusing explanations in the press about how it works. So here are two important things to know about the letter grade:

  1. The grade reflects a vehicle’s standing on a scale set according to a combination of fuel economy and how much greenhouse gas emissions a vehicle spews. So basically, a car or light truck that gets a B grade produces fewer GHGs and gets better fuel economy than a car or light truck that gets a D grade.
  2. Every car and light truck has a fair shot at a good grade. When EPA compared its grading scale against the 2010 fleet (see page 36 of the proposed rule document), a lot of SUVs received B grades, and a lot received C grades. A lot of small cars received B grades and a lot received C grades. The difference was that the B vehicles, not matter the vehicle size, were engineered to get better fuel economy and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than the C vehicles. The grade system helps highlight that the engineering exists to make vehicles less polluting—it’s just up to the automakers to do it.

EPA conducted a lot of market research, including focus groups with consumers. The consumers emphasized that they wanted a label that was simple and quick to understand. Hence, the letter grade on one of the proposed options. 

The auto industry and some pundits don’t like the letter grade. They say it's intrusive and unnecessary. I say that providing product information in a format that everyone can understand at a glance—and without needing bifocals—is a public service.

So go online now and  let EPA know which version you think makes most sense. And while you’re at it, let us know what you think about the labels, too.

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