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EPA Proposes Grading System For Car Fuel Economy 272

Posted by Soulskill
from the miles-per-gallon-per-dead-otter dept.
suraj.sun writes with this snippet from CNET: "The EPA and Department of Transportation on Monday proposed a fuel economy label overhaul to reflect how electric and alternative fuel vehicles stack up against gasoline passenger vehicles. ... The changed label, mandated by the 2007 energy law, includes the same information on city and highway miles per gallon and estimated driving costs based on 15,000 miles a year now available. But the new labels add more comparative information, rating cars on mileage, greenhouse gas contribution, and other air pollutants from tailpipe emissions. That means that consumers can look at a label to see how one vehicle compares to all available vehicles, rather than only cars in a specific class. One label proposes grades, ranging from an A-plus to a D. There are no failing grades, since vehicles need to comply with the Clean Air Act."
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EPA Proposes Grading System For Car Fuel Economy

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  • Giant letter? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WalksOnDirt (704461) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:11PM (#33422534)

    Just how stupid do you have to be to need a giant letter grade on a car? I hope that version doesn't fly.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Mashiki (184564)

      Well both of the sheets shown are terrible. They're at information overload, for most people who only care about how far will it go on X type of fuel.

      • Re:Giant letter? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by cappp (1822388) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:23PM (#33422600)
        I sometimes feel bad for the guys in charge, it's apparently impossible to please people. We're normally clamouring for more information, operate our markets with the assumption of perfectly informed agents, run democracies that were conceived presuming some degree of voter knowledge, and heap disdain on the apparently ignorant. But a government agency tries to help consumers make decent choices by undermining the ability of companies to easily obscure certain basic information and they're told people want less info of a specific type. We’re a capricious lot.

        I had a look at the two proposed sheets and thought they were nicely thorough, explained the basic assumptions, and presented the info in an easily comparable fashion. Guess it takes all sorts.
        • by TubeSteak (669689) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:30PM (#33422660) Journal

          I sometimes feel bad for the guys in charge, it's apparently impossible to please people. We're normally clamouring for more information, operate our markets with the assumption of perfectly informed agents, run democracies that were conceived presuming some degree of voter knowledge, and heap disdain on the apparently ignorant.

          If you walk into a dealership ready to spend >$10,000 based on a window sticker and some pamphlets, I've got a perpetual motion machine to sell you.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by pspahn (1175617)

            Oh? Where is this machine? Why aren't you selling them already to all the people that make their purchases based on sheer vanity?

            Maybe you need new labeling.

          • by toastar (573882)

            If you walk into a dealership ready to spend >$10,000 based on a window sticker and some pamphlets, I've got a perpetual motion machine to sell you.

            I built a perpetual motion machine [youtube.com] for way less $10,000.

          • by timeOday (582209)
            Eh? Without government testing of fuel efficiency, there would be no reliable information to go by at all.
            • by jeaton (44965)

              Because there are no third parties capable of performing MPG testing? It's a good thing the government tests every product on earth for you, otherwise how would you know anything about the products?

              Maybe you should tell Underwriter Laboratories to close up shop and let the government do their job for them too.

              • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @03:23AM (#33423958)
                Unless UL has changed its mandate, its role is to safety test products (hence its name - it was set up by insurance underwriters to help control insurance costs.)

                However, the mere fact that a coffee machine or a breadmaker is safe doesn't actually make it any use for making coffee or baking bread - in fact, in the UK, makers of nonfunctioning "water treatment" products market them as WRAS approved - which is purely safety testing.

                Any commercially sponsored test is flawed. Did you ever see a car magazine give a BMW a bad review? Usually they give critical reviews of second tier manufacturers or small cars, which have near-zero "marketing" budgets, and criticise very expensive cars (that their readers can't afford and whose makers don't advertise with them). I'm happy to pay taxes to an organisation that won't go out of business by telling the truth.

            • by 0123456 (636235)

              Without government testing of fuel efficiency, there would be no reliable information to go by at all.

              Eh? I've never found government testing of fuel efficiency to bear more than a vague resemblance to the real world. Which isn't surprising, because once there's a single 'gold benchmark' then any engineering company will work to get the best score at that benchmark rather than in the real world.

              I'd sooner trust somewhere like Consumer Reports than any kind of government MPG testing.

        • Re:Giant letter? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968 AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @04:07AM (#33424068) Journal

          The basic problem is we humans, for all our talk of rationality, are about the most irrational "gut driven" creatures to ever draw breath. Hell I know I should probably care that my 99 Ford Ranger gets a whole 14 MPG, but you know what? I LIKE my Ranger. It's paid for, it has a nice stereo with MP3 player, hauls heavy loads without a bit of trouble (even though I mainly haul groceries in it, it is nice to be able to haul equipment when I need to), looks like new, rides great, etc.

          Would having a bunch of MPG info have changed my mind? Probably not, even though it would have been nice to have, because I've always been a truck guy and I liked the way it looked and drove. Same as my GF always had "beep beep" cars until she had to take a Dodge Ram 4x4 as a loaner when her car was in the shop, fell in love with being higher off the ground (she is a short little thing) and not having to worry about getting stuck when she visits her dad on the mountain, and ended up trading in her car and keeping the Ram. Would have knowing the gas mileage difference made her keep the beep beep? Again probably not, as she says the Ram is the first vehicle she has ever had that just "seems built for her" and it makes her happy.

          Sure we can talk a good game, but at least here in the USA we buy our vehicles on things like feel, looks, and comfort more than a bunch of numbers on a sticker. Numbers? We don't need no steenkin numbers!

          • Re:Giant letter? (Score:5, Informative)

            by xaxa (988988) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @06:34AM (#33424696)

            The sticker says "over five years, this vehicle saves $6,900 compared to average". The small print says that's based on 15000 miles/year, and an average of 20-23 mi/gal (21.5mi/gal = 4.65 gal/100mi).

            Presumably, your Ford Ranger would have had a sticker like "over five years, this vehicle costs $5,200 more than average" (based on your 14mi/gal (7.14gal/100mi) figure, and $2.78/gal). Would that have influenced your decision? You can rent something that hauls heavy loads many times for $5,200, for example. (And presumably insurance, parts etc cost more on the bigger and more powerful car).

            (FWIW, with fuel costs here the $5,200 would become $12,306. You could buy a small car [fiat.co.uk] with the saving... and since that one uses 47mi/gal (2.12gal/100mi) you'd save $5300 (or $12500 here) compared to average [I know US gallons are different to the Imperial gallons given on that page, I converted them for you.]).

            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by nabsltd (1313397)

              Presumably, your Ford Ranger would have had a sticker like "over five years, this vehicle costs $5,200 more than average"

              Unless the sticker had a lot of fine print explanations, this would just cause more confusion and complaints. What, exactly, is the "average" that is being compared to? The average for all "similar" vehicles? The average for all passenger cars? Or passenger cars plus "light trucks"?

              And, since fuel prices change, will the price per gallon assumption on the sticker change? If so, will it happen such that a dealer might have two identical cars on the lot with different "costs $XXX more/less" stickers? Wh

        • Re:Giant letter? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by captainpanic (1173915) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @04:40AM (#33424166)

          I sometimes feel bad for the guys in charge, it's apparently impossible to please people. We're normally clamouring for more information, operate our markets with the assumption of perfectly informed agents, run democracies that were conceived presuming some degree of voter knowledge, and heap disdain on the apparently ignorant. But a government agency tries to help consumers make decent choices by undermining the ability of companies to easily obscure certain basic information and they're told people want less info of a specific type. We’re a capricious lot.

          I had a look at the two proposed sheets and thought they were nicely thorough, explained the basic assumptions, and presented the info in an easily comparable fashion. Guess it takes all sorts.

          I wish I could mod that reply higher than +5.

          The problem with people is exactly that: those who disagree will always shout the loudest... too little info, and the smart kids demand more. Too much info, all the lazy bastards complain that it's too complicated.
          And our poor politicians listen to those who shout. Try to please those who shout (especially when it comes to insignificant things that can get a lot of media attention)... Although we've never been wealthier, never been healthier, politicians must think the average citizen in a Western country is deeply unhappy.

          Anyway, the easy way out of this is: Include a very short and simple "executive summary" for the lazy and the dumb. Then add the extended list of facts below that for those who are interested.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        All they need to do is make the mileage numbers bigger, so that the people who don't care about anything else don't go into that info overload mode. I like that they added the other numbers to the label, though.
      • Re:Giant letter? (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Rei (128717) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:33PM (#33422672) Homepage

        It gets worse: they rate electric cars in miles per gallon. "Yeah, just fill 'er up with five gallons of electricity. Premium, please!" The EPA gathered together some focus group of yokels and found that they didn't know what a kilowatt hour was, and so decided to put everything into "gallons", which is an absurd measure for electricity.

        • The EPA gathered together some focus group of yokels and found that they didn't know what a kilowatt hour was

          But they know what a dollar is so vehicles should be ranked on cost per unit distance.

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Rei (128717)

            Except that they'd need a separate sticker for each location/utility in the country and they'd be obsolete within months.

            • They'd be obsolete month to month, as rates change not only due to the season, but due to the tiered pricing commonly used.
              • They'd be obsolete month to month, as rates change not only due to the season, but due to the tiered pricing commonly used.

                They would just need to provide the energy cost used as the basis. You see it all the time on appliances. (actually, in the US its required [doityourself.com] on new appliances)

        • It gets worse: they rate electric cars in miles per gallon. "Yeah, just fill 'er up with five gallons of electricity. Premium, please!" The EPA gathered together some focus group of yokels and found that they didn't know what a kilowatt hour was, and so decided to put everything into "gallons", which is an absurd measure for electricity.

          It's a shell game. Otherwise they'd do the only sensible thing, which is:
          For a series hybrid ("EREV" in marketing-speak) like the Volt, "N mpkw on electric and N mpg on gas

        • Re:Giant letter? (Score:4, Informative)

          by blueg3 (192743) on Tuesday August 31, 2010 @12:09AM (#33423248)

          That's weird, because the label they show in TFA is clearly for an electric car, and it lists the following figures:
          kW-hrs/100 miles, MPGe city, MPGe highway

          As I'm sure you're well aware, kW-hr/100 mi is not a rating in miles per gallon. The other two figures are miles per gallon equivalent and are to facilitate comparison across fuel types.

        • It gets even worse. How did they used to rate plug-in hybrids? It turns out they don't count electricity, so plug-ins with the right characteristics can get insane MPGs. The EPA driving cycle is less than 200 miles IIRC. To see why this is bad, let's say I get a huge truck (semi even) and fill it full of lead acid batteries. The batteries make it go for the full EPA course minus 1 mile. Then we turn on the truck's engine and get 4 MPG. Well, we used 1/4 gallon to go the last mile, and went 200 miles. The re
      • by Darinbob (1142669)
        If you're spending as much money as a new car costs, who wouldn't want a lot of extra information?
    • by Mspangler (770054)

      "Just how stupid do you have to be to need a giant letter grade on a car? "

      Don't ask questions that you don't really want to know the answer to.

    • Just how stupid do you have to be to need a giant letter grade on a car? I hope that version doesn't fly.

      Don't worry, flying cars are still 5-10 years from being ready.

  • by pinqkandi (189618) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:18PM (#33422576) Journal

    They already have a 1 to 10 scale on the stickers, how is that any more difficult than an A+ through D system?

  • I call BS.kg (Score:3, Interesting)

    by B5_geek (638928) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:21PM (#33422596)

    'Greenhouse gas emmisions'?
    Does this include the source power generation? Of course not, because some regions use wind/solar/nuclear, which have a vastly different greenhouse gas emmsiions then others.

    Why not use SIMPLE standard units. It's up to the buyers to know the source of the fuel.
    N/m@0-10km/h, 11-50km/h, 51-80km/h, 81-100km/h

    All cars can compete on this scale. If a 3000kg SUV takes 40kN/m to go from 0-10km/h, and an all electric 1000kg Prius takes 5kN to achieve the same task, we can figure out what is better.

    They should also mandate the energy density be displayed at all fuel pumps/charging stations.

    e.g.
    diesel: 1000N/L
    gasoline: 300N/L
    natural gas: 200N/L
    (my mind is fuzzy on how to apply this to all-electric, but plenty of the folks on here are smarter then I am), but my point still stands.

    Label everything based on the one common denominator: energy.

    • by Pence128 (1389345)
      What does Newtons per meter measure?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by maxume (22995)

      For the most part, people buying SUVs aren't comparing them to a Prius.

      I suppose some people are, but I don't see how it could possibly be the majority, just the ones trying to decide which one projects a better image, and I don't think they really give a shit about how much fuel each one uses.

      • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

        Really? I actually stuffed 2 single kayaks inside my prius. There was even room for a sammich!

        • by cynyr (703126)

          can I put 2 adults, 3 car seats (with kids), a dog, and a weeks worth of stuff (clothes, diapers, dog food, etc) to take to the inlaws in a prius?

          If so i may reconsider....

          • by gandhi_2 (1108023)

            Well...that depends.

            Is it okay if the dogs are wearing the diapers?

            Do you have any hot in-laws?

            • by cynyr (703126)

              no, the clean diapers need to be on no one.
              Not really, no. Even by /. standards, assuming you are hetero male. I'm unsure of classifications for other sexualities.

              but really, thats the current/near future needs of the "family car" although, i could settle for needing to pull a small trailer or use a roof top carrier, for ${STUFF}

        • by c6gunner (950153)

          Really? I actually stuffed 2 single kayaks inside my prius.

          Yes, but gluing the fragments back together once you got to the river must have been a real pain in the ass.

    • Woah, woah, You're not going to get a 1000kg all-electric Prius.

      Furthermore, the cost of acceleration doesn't hurt the Prius nearly as much as the SUV, because the Prius can recover some of that when slowing back down, so it's still an unfair comparison.

      Further, furthermore, You're using the wrong units anyway.

      You need to know: kJ to accelerate through the different ranges (say, 0-25, 25-35, 35-55, 55-75 mph) as those are typical limits. Tweak the ranges so that you can interpolate the rest without being t

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by LehiNephi (695428)
      Sure, they have an excuse for leaving off the upstream greenhouse gas emissions, due to varying sources. That omission also makes the car seem more environmentally friendly.
      Another convenient omission from the sticker is recharge time. Of all the different metrics they're using on these cars, recharge time would be the easiest to calculate and/or test. And yet it is left off.
      • by cynyr (703126)

        120VAC@7.5amp,120VAC@15 amp, 120VAC@45amp, 240VAC@15amp, 460VAC@45amp, or 240VDC@45amp? see it's still a problem, all but the 460V is likely in the home, but most could have 240V in the USA. clothes dryers and some ovens use 240V.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by blueg3 (192743)

        You mean like the second label shown in TFA, which has a section (with a helpful little battery-shaped box to help you find it) that indicates the charge time?

    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Newtons is force. Joules is energy. Although those bastard units, kWh, calories, and BTU, are also energy.

      • by Ken_g6 (775014)

        I'd like to see fuel efficiency defined as the total input energy consumed over a driving test. I would define fuel input energy as the heat released by burning the used amount of fuel, and electrical input energy as the heat released by running the amount of electricity used (by the charger, not the motor) through a resistance heater. I'd use a 20-mile city driving test for city, and a 200-mile highway driving test for highway. Then I'd display the results as energy/mile.

        Newtons is force. Joules is energy. Although those bastard units, kWh, calories, and BTU, are also energy.

        With my definitions, I'd prefer

  • by Anonymous Coward

    A van that carries 15 people at 15 mpg is not worse for the environment than someone driving a 50mpg vehicle by themselves, but I'm guessing the same ratings will apply. Have they given up on the concept of multi-passenger vehicles and just assume everyone drives alone?

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by east coast (590680)
      The person who's buying the vehicle is likely to have the same number of passengers regardless of the fuel economy so that's kind of a moot point.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by GreatDrok (684119)

      Most people do drive alone, even when their car can hold 7 or more people. I ride my motorcycle in to work every day and every day I drive past cars that could carry five or more people and if they were they would be as economical as my bike but the most they ever have is two people and that is rare. If people really wanted to be environmentally friendly they would stop driving around in big tin boxes (and fewer of those around would make the roads a lot safer for those of us on two wheels anyway).

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by MichaelSmith (789609)

        and fewer of those around would make the roads a lot safer for those of us on two wheels anyway

        Bicycle commuter here. To be honest I am not sure it would be safer. Cars (and trucks, etc) keep people driving in lanes. With fewer cars on the road there will be more vehicles behaving like a swarm, and less safety over all. I know its a behavioral issue and it should be addressed with education and enforcement, but I would hate to see the roads I ride on turn into the roads I see in Asia.

        • by cynyr (703126)

          if 90% of the traffic was motorcycles, we would simply divide the lanes up with a secondary stripe for the "bike" lanes.

          • if 90% of the traffic was motorcycles, we would simply divide the lanes up with a secondary stripe for the "bike" lanes.

            However you divide it up there will always be somebody who will accept less safety than me in return for getting to their destination one minute earlier. In the process of doing that they will compromise my safety.

      • by cynyr (703126)

        How's your bike(motor or pedal) handle in the snow? let alone when we get 2-5 inches an hour sometimes.

        • Thats the stupidest counterargument I have ever heard. Does it snow 365 days a year where you live? No, well then guess what you can ride your bike on the days it doesn't snow and ride in a car the rest(you can get a relatively affordable motorcycle or even an electric/diesel scooter for relatively cheap).

          I see this argument any time fuel economy is discussed, "since x isn't a panacea, x is totally worthless." It's just plain stupid and it's that thinking that keeps massive amounts of cash flowing into
      • by adolf (21054)

        I have a car that seats 5, a car that seats 4, and a car that seats 2.

        I have a family of four.

        The 5-seat car gets the best mileage of the bunch. The 4-seater a bit less so. And the 2-seater is abysmal.

        Tell me, Mr. Motorcycle: If I were traveling alone, which one of these would you rather see me using?

    • by rsborg (111459)

      Have they given up on the concept of multi-passenger vehicles and just assume everyone drives alone?

      No, it's just that in our Idiocracy, people can't think of person*miles/gallon as it varies with the number of people you have in the car at any given time. It's not a simple number you can apply to a vehicle because it completely depends on how it's used, and the most common use-case (single occupant) isn't flattering to the car manufacturers.

  • I don't think this will make a difference. 99% of the car buying public goes after features first: they may be looking for a pickup to haul stuff, a minivan to move people, something inexpensive but fun, or even just looks and the need to express masculine virility. It's a very rare person who goes specifically after emissions, and they're all driving a Prius. The rest will be going after price they can afford versus the features they want. There is also the fact that most people know the cost of fuel is sm

    • by barfy (256323)

      And you represent 99% of the experience? That is pretty bold of you to think that. There are tons of things that people do, and I know a bunch of people that will juggle the range of cars and features and price that they want with the current ratings. The newer ratings provide even more information like comparison to class.

      It may or may not make a difference in their decision, but to say that it won't is naive. Just like believing everyone is like you.

  • Misleading CO2 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Antony T Curtis (89990) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:38PM (#33422710) Homepage Journal

    The CO2 emission numbers would be misleading for battery electric and plug-in hybrids because it only states the tailpipe emissions.

    Example... A battery-electric vehicle may use 34 KW/h of electricity per 100 miles. According to official data, in the USA, about 0.6 Kg of CO2 is emitted for every KW/h of electricity consumed. So for every 100 miles, about 20 Kg of CO2 is released into the atmosphere. So the data should state that 200g of CO2 is emitted per mile, not the 0g it currently states.

    Ignoring other sources of CO2 emission and only looking at tailpipe emissions are misleading for technology which does not have a tailpipe. For example, a battery electric vehicle which uses 40 KW/h of electricity per 100 miles would release more CO2 into the atmosphere than many small gasoline vehicles.

    • Spot on. Interesting how the labels state the external cost of charging (ie. 12 cents per kwh) and yet neglect to state the external environmental costs. Another example of greenwashing.

      There's no free lunch - energy use always involve a trade off, even geothermal (ie. earthquakes) and solar (ie. less energy available to organisms, such as plants). For the labels to claim CO2 emissions of zero, even with the "tailpipe only" disclaimer, is disingenuous and deceptive.

      Ron

      • by cynyr (703126)

        well, whats the CO2/KWatt for your local utility? Good luck asking them that...

    • That IS bad (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zippthorne (748122) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:01PM (#33422858) Journal

      battery-electric vehicle may use 34 KW/h of electricity

      That IS bad. After only 3 years of engine-time, you'll need a full Nuke plant to power just *one* of those.

      per 100 miles

      Criminey! Assuming it averages about 50mph, that means it'll only take 23 hours to require a 1GW dedicated power plant, and it only gets worse from there!

  • Anyone know what's going to be in the "Smart Phone" QR block? I'd love to see it have enough data so an app could take that info, plus a the data from a week/month/year of GPS &/or accelerometer data (recorded by my GPS or smart phone) and give me a better estimate of how much a car would cost me to operate, if my driving habits remained roughly the same. At the very least, it could probably factor in my true mix of city/highway, and it might even be able to tweak that if I've got a heavy left foot, and
  • No failing grades? Have we already forgotten "No child left behind" and how that worked out?

  • So if there's a solar car with really poor efficiency, would it be rated "D Flueless"?
  • Suggestions to EPA (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wildsurf (535389) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:05PM (#33422876) Homepage
    I submitted a comment to the EPA suggesting that the "Gallons / 100 Miles" number be more prominent relative to MPG. (Converting to metric is a lost cause, unfortunately.)

    I also suggested that they add "Gallons SAVED per 100 miles" relative to an average car in its class. This statistic can be surprising: switching from a 33mpg Corolla to a 50mpg Prius saves one gallon per 100 miles, but switching from a 10mpg Hummer to a 14mpg Land Rover saves three gallons per 100 miles driven.
    • by blueg3 (192743)

      Don't they essentially do that with the labels shown, except turn it into a more compelling number -- dollars saved (or spent) on fuel relative to the average?

  • It won't make any difference. Then why the complaint?

    I suspect it will indeed make a difference. People will get a story going forward. There is already experience in the marketplace that labels like this work. Energy Star being the biggest example.

    The fact is, that the labels do provide a wide variety of information. This along with features, price and lust will make a difference (If we were all about features and price we would all be driving Kia Amanti's but very very few people do).

    There are a univ

  • by mark-t (151149) <`markt' `at' `lynx.bc.ca'> on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:58PM (#33423190) Journal

    If a car performs really well, it might get an A...

    But then a few years down the road, improved technology could make that A rating in 2010 look like a C- or D in 2015, and other "A" rated cars come out that perform far better. Yet the 2010 car still has the "A" rating... so it isn't fairly compared to newer cars.

  • The real measure of a car's operating cost (even taking into account CO2 emissions--more on that in a bit) is the cost per mile. However, since that is usually in the too-small-to-be-meaningful range, let's assume a typical fill-up, or charge-up, will take a car 400 miles tops. That seems to be the typical range the engineers design a tank for.

    (Side note: I'm not counting driver's insurance, since that cost is incurred before a driving pattern can be observed. Life's surprises can alter those calculation

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