Fuel Grades: New EPA Vehicle Efficiency Labels to Make a Mark on 2012 Models


Pass-fail classes were a gift. I mean, not when I thought I would ace them, because what would be the point? But when getting by wasn’t a sure thing (in my case, for example, in any class that ended in “ometry”), a thumbs up or thumbs down option was a super deal. I could fudge pretty much anything and how hard was it, really, to garner enough lackadaisical sentiment from the powers that be that said: “Whatever. Move along. You’re fine”?

Well, heads up automakers. Teach is onto you. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are looking to take some of the vagaries out of fuel economy labeling by giving new vehicles grades for fuel efficiency. There’s even something on the table resembling a curve, where vehicles will be judged against the performance of their peers. Tough stuff and it won’t be surprising if The Industry doesn’t like what it sees.

The idea is to update the current label, “to provide consumers with simple, straightforward energy and environmental comparisons across all vehicles types, including electric vehicles (EV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), and conventional gasoline/diesel vehicles.” The new stickers will now have “ratings on fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and other air pollutants,” which addresses the requirements of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) of 2007. The new label will be debut on vehicles in the 2012 model year.

For about the next two months, the agencies will be soliciting public comment before choosing between one of two proposed stickers. One is a bit more conventional (below), while the other bears the sure-to-be-controversial grading system (bottom). For the latter, according to the NYT, an A+ means a fuel economy equivalent of at least 117 miles per gallon and would be reserved for zero emission cars. Plug-in hybrids coming in between 59 to 116 miles per gallon would get an A, and “conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion,” would get an A-. The article goes on to say that if the system were in place today, “306 small cars from model year 2010 would receive a B, only eight S.U.V.’s would receive a B+ (68 would get a C), and the highest grade for a van would be a C+.”


Grades aside, a good old MPG ranking will be on whatever label ends up stuck on the windows of 2012 cars and trucks, as well as a “fuel consumption value” chart that measures gallons of fuel required per 100 miles. Egogeek points out that “upstream emissions, such as the emissions from a power plant generating electricity to recharge a vehicle, would not be listed on the label,” but there will a website offered where you can get more info if you want to check it out.

The NYT article is already reporting negative auto industry reaction, saying “the letter grades –  from A+ to D – were immediately denounced by some industry groups, which said the government should not be making value judgments for consumers about vehicles.” I suppose that’s to be expected by a group that’s not used to such getting graded so specifically on its work.

It’s going to be interesting to see how the grading system plays out, if that’s the route that’s chosen, as such an approach is always a delicate proposal. Witness the movie rating system where an NC-17 versus an R can make or break a film even before its release. The trick is going to be objective accuracy and if it’s done right, the carrot of a good grade might just be what’s indicated to get some of slackers in gear.


Scott Adelson

Scott Adelson is EcoSalon's Senior Editor of HyperKulture, a monthly column that explores opening cultural doors to initiate personal change. He is also the author of InPRINT, which reviews and discusses books, new and old. You can reach him at scott@adelson.org.