The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has proposed new window stickers for all cars/trucks sold in the United States.  The mandates come from a 2007 law (not implemented by the Bush Administration) that requires labels to put a new vehicle in context with the rest of the herd.  The EPA’s mandate must take into account (1) fuel economy, (2) greenhouse gasses and (3) smog-forming pollutants.  It also must contextualize your average car/truck with a gasoline-fueled internal combustion engine with EVs, hybrids and advanced clean diesels.

One of two new stickers assigns letter grades (remember elementary school?) from A+ to D-.   It’s pretty easy to guess which car gets the highest and lowest grades.  A pure EV (electric vehicle), like the Nissan Leaf, will get an A+ (117  mpg and higher) while my Italian friends, Lamborghini and Ferrari, would get the D-.

Proposed EPA-DOT Window Sticker with Letter Grade

Note that the sticker even has a QR Code™ that can be read by your smartphone to get even more information about the car and the EPA’s ratings.

A plug-in hybrid, rated at the equivalent of 59 – 116 mpg, like the upcoming Chevy Volt (it has an internal combustion engine that runs a generator to juice the batteries to give it an extended range) would get an A.   “Normal” hybrids like the Toyota Prius and the Ford Fusion would earn an A-.  Lesser hybrids, like the Nissan Altima, Ford Escape and Toyota Camry will have to sit in the second row and with a B+.

Most small cars – some 306 model year 2010s according to the New York Times – would fall in the B category. SUVs don’t fare as well and you know that will make the manufacturers very unhappy.  The Times reports that only 8 of the 74 SUVs on the market in 2010 would receive a B+ while the remaining 68 would get a C.  The highest possible grade for a minivan would be a C+.

You can see the smoke blasting from the critics’ ears who decry the nanny-like grade system.  How dare the government treat consumers like stupid children who can’t read a “normal” sticker with a bunch of confusing scientific information and bar graphs.  The powerful National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) “opposes changes [letter-rating] that would confuse the buying public, make vehicle purchasing decisions more difficult or treat certain automakers or fuel types unfairly.”

Of course, because the letter grade sticker is being proposed by the Obama Administration, it must be a dangerous step towards the much-feared Socialism.

The reality is that most consumers don’t have a clue about CO2 emissions or even how much they spend annually on fuel.   A letter grade may actually help.   A straw pole among my smart, but non-car friends suggested that a simple letter grade would be helpful when shopping.  It’s the KISS principle: Keep it simple, Stupid!

The alternative sticker for gasoline or diesel vehicles is more basic, with large, easy-to-read information. I like the bar graph comparing the vehicle to other similar vehicles. The smartphone QR Code™ is included in this version too.

Alternative EPA-DOT Sticker - Simple, Less Information

The problem I see with this sticker is that most people don’t care or don’t have a clue about “Greenhouse Gases-CO2” or “Other Air Pollutants.”  It’s hard to understand how a gram or even a ton of  invisible CO2 really affects the environment.  Most buyers, outside the Hollywood Greenerait and Berkeley radicals in Birkenstocks, really only care about how much green a car will suck out of their wallets.

Of geek interest, both stickers report the number of gallons it takes to drive 100 miles.  This metric is unfamiliar to US consumers; however, it is the way fuel economy is measured in Europe. They don’t use “mpg” because they don’t measure in gallons   Stickers in Europe use the number of liters (gasoline or diesel) to drive 100 kilometers.

It would be too much to hope that our emissions rules would be harmonized with those in Europe and Asia.  Manufacturers could save millions of dollars if the engines/transmissions/exhaust/emissions systems were the same across all major markets.  Achtung Mao, if we actually took this sensible step that would benefit all manufacturers, then we’d be slipping into communism or socialism or fascism, depending on which crazy you talk to.

The EPA also proposed stickers for EVs and Dual Fuel vehicles like the Chevy Volt.  The first image is for a pure electric vehicle like the 2011 Nissan Leaf and the upcoming 2012 electric Ford Focus.  The problem is how to calculate how much fossil fuel it takes to generate the electricity to charge an EV.  Utilities use anything from dirty coal to natural gas to solar or wind to generate electricity and the mix may be very different depending on where you live.  Try getting scientists and the industry to agree on one formula for that.

Proposed EPA-DOT Sticker for EVs

This image below is specifically for the Chevy Volt, however it will apply to any dual fuel vehicle including the upcoming Fiskar Karma.

Proposed Dual Fuel: Gasoline-Electricity for the Chevy Volt

In the future, we (in the US) will probably see a dual fuel vehicle that will run on diesel rather than gasoline. In Europe, PSA/Puegeot-Citroen will have a dual fuel diesel-electricity on the market within 12 months.

The EPA wants to have the new stickers in place for as many 2012 model year vehicles as possible. Which label will prevail depends on how strong the auto industry lobbies against the letter grades that are favored by environmentalists. The comment period ends 60 days after the stickers were published on August 30, 2010. You can comment directly to the EPA on its website: EPA.gov/fuel economy.

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