EPA proposes label changes for overall fuel economy, FFVs

By Kris Bevill | October 14, 2010
In August, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed an overhaul to the current "petroleum-centric" fuel economy labels that are displayed on every new vehicle for sale in the U.S. Gina McCarthy, EPA assistant administrator, said the alterations will be the broadest changes made to the labels since their debut more than 30 years ago. "Today we have technologies that are revolutionizing the way we drive," she said. "As new fuel savings and emissions-cutting technologies emerge from the laboratory and start appearing on showroom floors and in driveways across America, we think a new label is absolutely necessary to help consumers make the right decision for their wallets and for the environment."

The current fuel economy label is very minimal in the information it provides to consumers. The label displays the vehicle's average miles per gallon (MPG) and compares that to other vehicles within the same class. The goal of the new labels is to expand that basic information by including data on fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions and provide information on where to locate a Web-based tool that will provide extended information on the vehicle's performance.

Two general design options were offered in the agencies' proposal. One features a letter grade, which would reflect the vehicle's combined fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions performance. The other more closely resembles the current label, but also includes fuel consumption and emissions information as well as a slider bar to illustrate the car's performance compared to all other vehicles.
Labels on flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) are already required to identify the vehicle as an FFV, to list the fuels that can be used in the vehicle and to indicate the fuel economy of the vehicle when operated on gasoline. In the proposal, the agencies suggested three new for FFV labels. The first option is to keep the current labeling requirements, which would result in FFV labels showing a lower fuel economy for E85 than gasoline. The second would require the labels to include fuel economy values calculated in miles per gallon. The EPA acknowledges that this approach would result in a label stating that E85 results in fewer miles per gallon than gasoline, so it suggests adding text to the label that says: "While the E85 MPG values are lower than the gasoline MPG values, the use of E85 is typically slightly more energy efficient than the use of gasoline." Additionally, the EPA said it could add to the label CO2 emission rates, which would be lower for E85 than gasoline, and fuel costs. The third option would list the vehicle's fuel economy in miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, which would illustrate the slightly higher miles per unit of energy that a vehicle would achieve when fueled with E85.

The EPA's goal to combine fuel economy and GHG emissions performance into one rating admittedly presents a problem when labeling FFVs, because those vehicles can be operated on more than one type of fuel. In the proposal, the EPA said that "empirical evidence" shows 99 percent of FFV owners use gasoline instead of E85. Therefore, it proposes to base combined fuel economy-GHG emissions ratings for FFVs on gasoline. "However, if a manufacturer can demonstrate that some of its FFVs are, in fact, using E85 fuel, then the merged values can be based in part on E85 performance, prorated based on the percentage of the fleet using E85 in the field," the agency wrote in its proposal.

The EPA is accepting comments on all of its proposed labeling changes, including the trio of FFV options and its proposal to base merged ratings for FFVs on gasoline use rather than E85, through Nov. 22. The proposed rule and labels can be viewed at www.epa.gov/fueleconomy. Comments may be submitted via e-mail to newlabels@epa.gov.