EPA Proposes Update to Gas-Mileage Measures

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to change the way it tests gas mileage on cars, starting with most 2008 models. The changes are meant to make mileage estimates more accurate. Renee Montagne talks to Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the Internet magazine The Car Connection.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to change the way it tests vehicles for gas mileage. The idea is to make the estimates more realistic, starting with most 2008 models. Joining me now is Paul Eisenstein, publisher of the Internet magazine, TheCarConnection.com. Good morning.

Mr. PAUL EISENSTEIN (TheCarConnection.com): Good morning. Good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: And Paul, what? The miles to gallon--or per gallon we think that we're getting now, that's not realistic?

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Oh, it's not realistic at all. I think anybody who drives knows that they're usually getting a little bit less. And they're probably blaming themselves, for the way they drive, which is probably true because the EPA doesn't use a very realistic way of determining how many miles you're going to get out of that SUV or Prius hybrid.

MONTAGNE: How do they--so it sounds like the miles per gallon is going down. People aren't going to like that much, probably. But how does the EPA come up with mileage estimates and why have they been so off?

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Well, it's interesting. The way that they test it, trying to come with a test that reflect--that's uniform across the entire fleet that we drive here in North America, they test at 75 degrees Fahrenheit using top highway speeds of 60. And you probably know in Washington that when the traffic clears, people drive a lot faster than that. They have a mix of city and highway driving and it just isn't the way people really drive. People get on the gas when they can. They drive faster. They get in more stop-and-go. The weather changes. Here in Detroit we have a heat wave right now and it's 40 degrees. So that's going to skew the numbers right there.

MONTAGNE: And how will this change affect car manufacturers, if it will?

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Well, there are actually two sets of numbers, and in terms of the federal mandate, how many miles per gallon they're required to get, you know, in order to avoid penalties, the changes that they're talking about won't do anything there. So at that level, they're fine. They'll continue to pretend that they're meeting these false standards.

But what is good is that what consumers will see on the window sticker will change. So what you can tell when you go to the showrooms or you go online to find our what a particular car gets, those numbers will be reflective of reality, probably 10 to 15, maybe 20 percent for passenger cars, SUVs, pickups. And on the new hybrids, they're saying those numbers which are way inflated, could be as much as 30 percent lower when the new standards go into effect.

MONTAGNE: Well, when they're adopted, do you think these new ratings will have an impact then on the kinds of vehicles consumers buy? Sounds like some will look worse than others.

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Yeah, definitely. This may shift things in a way that may be surprising, because suddenly it won't make those hybrids look quite as attractive as they do today. Some of the big cars may not see as much of an adjustment downward as some of the small cars, for example. But certainly, people are talking mileage right now. I was just at the auto show this last week here in Detroit, and I haven't heard the words `fuel economy' used as often by car company executives in decades.

MONTAGNE: Paul, thanks very much for joining us.

Mr. EISENSTEIN: Good to be with you.

MONTAGNE: Paul Eisenstein is publisher of the Internet magazine, TheCarConnection.com.

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