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What to Make of EPA's Label Makeover

Posted May 27 2011 3:17pm

Electric car This week the EPA and DOT took a small but important step toward reducing U.S. dependence on oil. The agencies announced new a  fuel-efficiency labeling system  for all cars manufactured after this summer. According to an EPA press release , label updates will include:

• Energy comparisons between different kinds of electric, hybrid, and conventional cars
• Five-year projections of the vehicle’s fuel usage compared to the average new car
• The amount of fuel the vehicle uses to drive 100 miles
• The charging time and range of each new electric vehicle
• And, in an apparent attempt at tech savvy, QR codes on each label will let smartphone users compare cars and find more information about them online.

While these updates will make information more accessible, they falter in a few key areas. Disappointingly, the EPA caved to industry pressure to eliminate the efficiency grading system , which allowed for quick, easy car comparisons. The proposed system's huge, glaring A+ through D grades  would have been difficult to ignore. Without such a cleawr metric,the new label might bog consumers down with too much information.

The system also doesn’t account for the energy used in charging electric vehicles, one of the major ways that electric cars will impact the environment.

So what effect will these new standards have? Ideally the information-heavy labels will help create a more informed consumer. They also factor in the future popularity of electric cars, a crucial step to eliminating the public's strange continuing fear of them

Of course, the new labels’ main incentives are economic — you should buy an efficient car to save money, they say, and here's the proof. New research shows that people are driving less because of skyrocketing oil prices and struggling economies,  so the new labels come at a crucial belt-tightening time. 

--Mimi Dwyer

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