New Labels Could Make Finding Efficient Cars Easier

Looking for the most efficient vehicle that meets your daily needs? Look for the car that gets an “A” for efficiency. Today, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed new fuel economy labels for cars and light-trucks coming to showrooms.

The new labels come on the heels of recently improved standards for fuel economy and global warming pollution finalized last April. The standards, which phase in during model years 2012 to 2016, increase the average fuel economy of new vehicles to 34.1 miles per gallon and hold emissions of greenhouse gases to no more than 250 grams of CO2 per mile. EPA plans to require the labels beginning with model year 2012 vehicles.

EPA and NHTSA have proposed two label designs. Both contain the traditional miles per gallon, or mpg, metric and an estimated annual fuel cost but the new labels also introduce greenhouse gas emissions rates (in gCO2/mile) and a fuel consumption rate (gallons/100 mi). The fuel consumption metric is helpful because it relates directly to operational costs and environmental performance. For example, when comparing two cars that differ in fuel consumption rates by 20 percent, their fuel costs and global warming emissions will also differ by 20 percent. If you compare two vehicles that have a difference in fuel economy of, say, 4 mpg the size of the fuel and cost savings will depend on whether the 4 mpg improvement is relative to a 15 mpg or 25 mpg vehicle.

Both designs also incorporate a 1-to-10 smog pollution score relative to other vehicles similar what is used on the California Environmental Performance label and at

The redesign of the fuel economy label was partly driven by the need to label emerging vehicles that run, at least partially, on electricity instead of gasoline or diesel fuel. Advanced technology vehicles such as the plug-in hybrid Chevy Volt and the all electric Nissan LEAF will be available to consumers later this year. Label designs that include global warming pollution ratings and cost of operation allow consumers to compare the value of these new non-petroleum technologies with their conventional oil-powered counterparts.

EPA and NHTSA propose to further simplify the process of finding the cleanest, most efficient vehicles by grading all cars, minivans, SUVs and pickups with A+ (best) to D (worst) letter grades. The letters summarize the characteristics of fuel efficiency, global warming pollution and cost of operation.

You can weigh in on what the new labels should ultimately look like. Check out the designs and submit comments at EPA’s website:

New fuel economy and global warming pollution standards mean that consumers will have more choices of cleaner, more fuel-efficient vehicles at dealerships. Revisions to the label can help consumers quickly find the most efficient vehicles that meet their travel needs and therefore use less gas, save money at the pump and cut pollution.

About the Authors

Luke Tonachel

Director, Clean Vehicles and Fuels Project, Energy & Transportation program

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