New Vehicle Stickers a Next Step for Efficiency Labeling

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Carol Guest
September 9, 2010

On Aug. 30, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Transportation (DOT) proposed new fuel economy labels to replace the current mileage label on the front windows of new cars.

According to the EPA, the new labels will help Americans make more informed purchasing decisions than the current label, which hadn’t been redesigned in over three decades.

Labels Tell More with a New Look

EPA Grade Label

In addition to the now-familiar mileage and fuel cost estimates, the proposed labels will give fuel cost comparisons with other cars, tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions estimates, and new measures specific to electric, plug-in hybrid, and other advanced technology vehicles.

The EPA and DOT are proposing two label designs. One design would rate each car with a prominent A to D letter-grade on overall greenhouse gas emissions and fuel economy. This labeling option would grade on a curve that adjusts with the each year’s fleet, maintaining the median grade at a constant B-, giving electric vehicles an A+ and marking the worst gas guzzlers with a D. There are no failing grades, according to the EPA, because federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards ensure minimum performance.

The alternate design would present the same metrics, but without including a letter ranking.

 “Cars have changed dramatically in the past 30 years, and it’s well past time for the fuel economy labels to catch up and come into the 21st century,” said Alliance President Kateri Callahan. “We applaud EPA and DOT for seeking to empower consumers with information that will allow them to make economic and environmentally sound vehicle purchase decisions.” 

The full set of proposed labels is available on the EPA website, along with detailed explanations and comparisons with the existing label. EPA and DOT are seeking public comments until late fall and expect to have the labels finalized in time for the 2012 fleet. To comment on the proposed labels, email newlabels@epa.gov.

The Alliance to Save Energy will submit comments, which will be posted to our website when filed.

Energy Labeling Goes Beyond Cars

The new fuel economy labels are just one of a suite of new energy labels proposed by the Obama administration, though the car labels are getting the most attention. In June, the Department of Energy (DOE) made a similar call for proposals on energy labels for homes, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched a new light bulb label that same month.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which mandated the car and light bulb labels, also called for new labels on consumer electronics and TVs.

Demand for building labels is growing, especially given that the average American household spends $2,670 per year on transportation and almost the same amount, $2,150, on household energy, according to Alliance analysis.

The new energy labels mark a move toward standardizing and disseminating information that consumers already seek on their own. The growing popularity of voluntary certification programs like LEED and Energy Star and websites like google PowerMeter and Earth Aid reflect an increased consumer demand for using information – and information technology – in purchasing and behavioral decisions on energy.

“The secret to making consumers a part of the energy solution is readily available, easy-to-understand information,” Callahan said.  “The Alliance looks forward to working with policy makers as they design new energy efficiency labels that will help Americans lower their energy costs and lessen their environmental footprint.” 

Other Efficiency Labels Still in Development

EPA Fuel Economy LabelWhile the vehicle labels are on the fast track for the 2012 fleet, the home and consumer electronic labels may take longer to roll out.

In July, DOE closed its first round of comments on the proposed home energy label, and expects to release a draft label this fall. Developing the labels will require extensive background work, however, since DOE will have to standardize testing procedures and consider a diversity of climate and building stock variables in the process. Once the labels are developed, they will be applied to homes only on a voluntary basis.

The FTC similarly has some distance to go on consumer electronics, since only one product type – TVs – has adequate testing procedures in place. The FTC sought comments on a new TV label earlier this year and expects to release the final EnergyGuide label for TVs in the near future.