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May 20, 2011

Will New Vehicle Labels Make the Grade?

Fuel label We are just days away from the unveiling of the latest vehicle stickers you see on the windows of new cars.
While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will release its final decision on what the new stickers will look like and what information they will convey next week, the first story on the label includes some disappointing news. The Sierra Club members strongly supported the letter grade option on these stickers (example pictured to the left - click it to enlarge), but that did not make the final cut.

Here's a key point we made in our comments to EPA on the letter grade:

1. A prominent letter grade system.
A letter grade system, similar to school report cards, is widely understood by consumers and would allow consumers to absorb the relative emissions and efficiency of a vehicle in a quick glance. Quick information is very important, as EPA's own label research showed most consumers use fuel economy labels to inform purchasing decisions, but many only glance briefly at the labels. Further, a letter grade system can be applied to all vehicle technologies, regardless of fuel type. It is important that all light-duty vehicles- cars and light trucks- be compared on a single scale based on greenhouse gas emissions.

The auto industry lobbied heavily against putting a grade on new cars. Clear and simple was not what they wanted consumers to see on new car labels. 

There are other key pieces of information we urged EPA to include on the new label. Giving consumers information on how many of their dollars they will spend at the pump over five years as compared to the average vehicle would certainly help drive home the point. A vehicle with better fuel efficiency will help you keep your dollars in your pocket while also helping cut our addiction to oil.

Hopefully the label, even without a letter grade, will convey the key facts: Gas guzzling will cost you in the long run and emit more climate disrupting pollution.

We will let you know next week what grade we give the new label.  EPA now needs to ensure strong new vehicle fuel efficiency standards through 2025 so that all cars, with our without a letter grade, help us use less oil and save money at the gas pump. 

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign


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