U.S. Weighs Grades For Car Fuel Economy

One of the EPA's options for new mileage stickers.

One of the EPA's options for new mileage stickers. The sticker would display a letter grade. Cars with higher fuel economy and very low tailpipe emissions would get an A, while less-efficient cars could get a D. Environment Protection Agency hide caption

itoggle caption Environment Protection Agency

A big change may be coming to those mileage stickers you find on new cars.

The U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency are considering two options: One looks similar to the current sticker; the other would prominently display a letter grade. Cars with higher fuel economy and very low tailpipe emissions would get an A, while less-efficient cars could get a D.

For car manufacturers, here's the good news: All vehicles will be graded on a curve, and no one gets an F.

"There's no F because every one of the models has to pass requirements under the Clean Air Act, so all of them are certainly suitable for sale," EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said.

Electric vehicles would get an A-plus; the Toyota Camry a B or B-minus, depending on the engine. Many sports cars would be in the D range.

"It does seem a little bit like a government stamp of approval that's being put on to cars," said Gloria Bergquist, vice president of communications for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.

While letter grades will be easy to understand, Bergquist says they don't address all of the complex reasons people buy cars. For example, eight people in a gas-hogging Chevrolet Suburban could be considered more efficient than one person in a Honda Civic. And some people need trucks and vans to do their jobs.

"If consideration for the size of the vehicle and the utilitarian nature of the vehicle is not accounted for, presumably all the large vehicles — which are good for big families and small businesses — would be rated poorly," said Tim Jackson, president of the Colorado Automobile Dealers Association.

The EPA's alternative to the letter grades mileage sticker is similar to the current one. i i

The EPA's alternative to the letter grades mileage sticker is similar to the current one. Environment Protection Agency hide caption

itoggle caption Environment Protection Agency
The EPA's alternative to the letter grades mileage sticker is similar to the current one.

The EPA's alternative to the letter grades mileage sticker is similar to the current one.

Environment Protection Agency

The EPA says it will consider such arguments before putting a final rule in place. The agency says the stickers need to be updated to reflect a changing car market that now includes hybrid and electric vehicles. The goal is to encourage people to buy cars that are less harmful to the environment.

"This isn't a grade to try to assess how good or bad a vehicle is," says the EPA's McCarthy. "If someone's going in to buy a Ferrari, I doubt that the D is going to convince them that they should buy an electric vehicle."

The letter grades would be in addition to the traditional city and highway miles-per-gallon numbers on existing stickers.

The agencies hope to put a final rule in place that would apply to all 2012 model cars after a 60-day public comment period.

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