Administration unveils new vehicle fuel economy labels

The Obama administration unveiled new vehicle fuel economy labels Wednesday that allow consumers to compare the costs associated with alternative fuel and traditional, gas-powered vehicles.

But the administration nixed a proposal to include on the label a letter grade based on the fuel efficiency and environmental impacts of the vehicle. The move is raising the ire of some clean air and consumer groups who argue that the grading system would make it much easier for the public to decide which vehicles to buy.

“A letter grade would make the choice so much clearer,” Clean Air Watch President Frank O'Donnell said. “But the auto industry obviously feared that would drive people away from bigger vehicles, which historically have meant bigger profits.”

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation said Wednesday that the new labels will show consumers how much they will save or spend on fuel over a five year period as compared to the average new vehicle.

“Today’s car buyers want the best possible information about which cars on the lot offer the greatest fuel economy and the best environmental performance,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement. “The new labels provide comprehensive information to American car buyers, helping them make a choice that will save money at the gas pump and prevent pollution in the air we breathe.”

The label also includes information on a vehicles environmental impact, including how it compares to other vehicles in terms of emissions that contribute to climate change.

And the label will give consumers an estimate of how much fuel or electricity is required to drive 100 miles.

The agencies also opted to include a code on the label that allows consumers to use their smartphones to enter information about their driving behavior in order to get a tailored readout of a vehicle’s performance.

The labels, which were required by a 2007 energy law, will be required on all passenger cars and trucks beginning in model year 2013.

The announcement comes as the Obama administration is proposing beefed-up vehicle fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards.

EPA and DOT laid out such standards last year for light-duty cars and trucks built in model years 2012 to 2016. The agencies will release standards for model years 2017 to 2025 in September. And they’ll impose first-time fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas standards for commercial trucks, vans and buses in July.