Picking Winners?

Proposed labels may favor electric cars
By Kris Bevill | January 17, 2011

Last August, the U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation proposed the first revisions to vehicle fuel economy labels in more than 30 years. At the time of the proposal, the EPA said the current labels were “petroleum-centric” and new labels are necessary to reflect recent advancements made in fuel efficiency and emissions technology. Two label design options were presented by the agencies. One is similar in style to the current label, but includes fuel consumption and emissions information as well as a slider bar to illustrate the vehicle’s performance compared to all other vehicles. The second option is an entirely new design and incorporates a letter grade to symbolize the vehicle’s overall fuel economy and emissions performance. In December, a group of 53 members of the U.S. House of Representatives issued a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and DOT Secretary Ray LaHood, stating their belief that the letter-grade label option unfairly favors electric vehicles over all other types of vehicles.

“The ‘A’ and ‘A+’ categories are reserved for a very narrow range of vehicles, i.e., battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids,” the representatives stated. “However, a fuel efficient diesel vehicle would be penalized with a low or mediocre grade. Similarly, most fuel efficient SUVs and pickup trucks would rate no higher than a “C+.” The representatives further stated that the letter grade marginalizes the most important piece of information provided on the label—the fuel economy of the vehicle.

Combining the fuel economy and emissions performance of a vehicle into one rating, as would be done with the letter grade option, presents even greater problems for labeling flex-fuel vehicles (FFVs) because they can be operated on more than one type of fuel. In the EPA’s label proposal, it suggested using gasoline metrics for FFV labels because evidence suggests that 99 percent of FFV drivers use gasoline rather than E85.

The EPA says it is reviewing the representatives’ letter as well as all other comments received. The agency is tentatively scheduled to decide on a new label by June.