New Fuel Economy Window Stickers Chock Full 'O Numbers

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One of the draft window stickers released today will give buyers of 2012 models efficiency data for gas and electric vehicles. U.S. regulators want you to decide: How do you like letter grades? UPDATE: Automakers give it a "F."

The proposals from the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration come in two basic flavors. One would update the sticker that's on vehicles today with more data about fuel costs and how any given model compares with similar vehicles. The other would go further, redesigning the label to give each vehicle a big letter grade for efficiency with a dense output of data further down. (Sadly, the system cuts off at "D," avoiding the sight of a giant "F" attached to the window of a new European supercar).

Because the traditional measure of miles per gallon means little when a vehicle runs off electricity all or part of the time, the government has suggested adding in several new pieces of data for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, such as all-electric range and kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. Each sticker would also have a smartphone-readable QR code for more information.


The proposed changes would represent the largest makeover of the label on all new U.S. vehicles since the government first required them 33 years ago. By the way, here's the current one:

A few more details based on a conference call with EPA and NHTSA officials along with government documents:
- The letter grades play on a curve that's expected to rise over time, but favors anything that uses electricity for power. If the system was in use today, only EVs would score an A+, while plug-in hybrids would get plain A grades and traditional hybrids get A- marks. Gas-only cars top out at B+;a few trucks sneak into the B range, but most are solid C students. The only known D is the Ferrari 612 Scaglietti. (D grades are color coded bright orange.)
- While the new designs were tested with several focus groups, the letter grades were not. The government felt the letters answered several requests for clear, concise data about a car's environmental performance.
- That big green version above also includes the government's estimate of how much buying such a vehicle would save the average driver in fuel costs over five years; a huge guess, but one some automakers may support to soften the sticker shock of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.
- Despite several requests to put the charging times for EVs and plug-ins on the label, the agencies left it off, since they have no standards for measuring it. They also didn't include "upstream" carbon emissions into letter grades, but would put that into the Internet data.

The EPA and NHTSA will take comments on the changes for the next two months. To see the changes and register your opinion, go here.


UPDATE: The Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, the trade group that includes General Motors, Ford, Chrysler and Toyota, isn't too pleased. President and CEO Dave McCurdy says while the companies support giving consumers more information, "the proposed letter grade falls short because it is imbued with school-yard memories of passing and failing."