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Letter grades proposed for vehicle fuel efficiency

By Peter Whoriskey

The Obama administration is proposing to give automobiles a letter grade ranging from "A" to "D" based on their fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions.

The proposal comes as regulators are preparing to revamp the familiar fuel economy stickers to accommodate new hybrid and electric vehicles.

Officials with the Environmental Protection Agency are soliciting public reaction to the letter grade labels as well as another label that resembles the current one.

The label with the letter grade features it with a large font and bold colors.

"The first label is a bit different than the current label. The first thing youll notice -- and it's going to jump out at you -- is that it has a letter grade," Gina McCarthy, assistant administrator at EPA said in a statement.

Among the critics of the letter grades are automakers, which say that while they support giving consumers information, they would prefer that the consumers get the numerical information about mileage and emissions and that the government refrain from boiling that down to a letter grade.

"The grades carry such a connotation of school days and of passing and failing," said Gloria Bergquist, a vice president of the Auto Alliance, an industry group. "We weren't sure that is the right yardstick to be using."

By Peter Whoriskey  |  August 30, 2010; 6:11 PM ET
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I think grades are a bad idea because they will be based on numerical levels that will change over time as cars improve. If it were based strictly on percentages it might work. Fore example a car rated A would be comparable to all car makes of the same model year having the top 20% best efficiency.

I prefer being given the numbers, but realistic or worst case numbers, not best case numbers that only apply to perfect environment, driving conditions, or vehicle maintenance, which wouldn't apply to any significant number of drivers.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2010 8:19 AM | Report abuse

This is a good idea, but useful ONLY if the letter grades are meaningful. If (as in the sample linked to) an MPG of 22/32 (city/hwy) earns a B, then what's the point?

An A ought to be the top 10%, B the next 10%, etc., in order to follow the analogy. So, perhaps an A would be 40-50 MPG or better, and a B be 35-40, etc.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

Do we get a free helmet from the government with the letter grade too? Can an auto maker get a note from their mommy explaining why they should get a better grade?

Is this what my rising tax dollars are paying for! What a waste of money and a pathetic joke.

Posted by: Alangc2 | August 31, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

At the risk of an additional complication, it seems to me that there ought to be two grades, one for how the vehicle's mpg stacks up compared to all vehicles and one for how it stacks up in it's (weight?) category. If you really need to buy a pickup, you'd want to know how the one you're considering compares to its direct competitors, not just to a Prius.

Posted by: mznblu | August 31, 2010 10:17 AM | Report abuse

Maybe clunkers and oversized vehicles that consume more gas should be taxed at the time of purchase and vheicle registration renewal to encourgae the sales and use of vehicles that get better milage.

Posted by: soccerhead | August 31, 2010 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Let's put a letter grade on the Obama admin. F

Posted by: bandsposs | August 31, 2010 2:21 PM | Report abuse

Will this rating take into consideration the pollution caused in making the vehicle? The Prius might get great gas mileage but the oil burned in it's production is horrible. The car is produced in countries with little to no pollution regulations on power plants; it has to be shipped back and forth a few times in production too. When you consider the total world wide carbon footprint you really are not helping by driving a Prius; you are better off with a WV diesel that gets 50 mpg and is built in a nation with pollution controls and the car is not shipped all over the place to get parts like the Prius.

If these kind of things are not considered this is a feel good do nothing move which is typical of the American environmental movement.

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

I don't think letter grades would help. As I recall letter grades in school were highly subject to the teachers impression of how I was doing in addition to actual test scores.

MPG is a fairly understood concept. I don't know if there is a way to translate electric car performance into MPG. Perhaps a more meaningful metric to allow comparison between gas and electric vehicles is cost per mile to operate based on $3/gal. gas or 15 cent/KWH electricity (whatever the national average is at the time).

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Though current EPA figures aren't all that useful to the ordinary vehicle buyer because they aren't real-life numbers, I don't see how letter scores would be any WOULD be helpful, whether in the form of a [real-life] number or a letter. City mileage versus others in the same weight class, technology, price, etc. for example. Maybe a table, with the relevant block in each row or section for that make and model highlighted.

(A side note regarding the political comments here: "contributors" of those useless comments -- go troll somewhere else.)

Posted by: Anonymous | August 31, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

Anonymous has it right. If these comments are really "monitored," can we please just not post comments that do not bear on the substance of the issue/question (this means bandsposs and his mindless compatriots).

Posted by: mznblu | August 31, 2010 5:45 PM | Report abuse

I encourage the Adminstration to reconsider. For no single industry should be singled out for what is no more than a personal Scarlet Letter approach in an abonishment of a very particular offering within a particular Industry in America today. For I expect that instead it might be preferable for any product which adversly impacts the environment to carry that same Scarlet Letter on themselves. For otherwise, what would this letter mean ? The President of the United States doesn't like you ? And if such is the case, I say, who cares. Wear the letter and be Proud ! By the way, is this really what we want here ? Just asking.

Posted by: jralger | August 31, 2010 5:59 PM | Report abuse

Many uneducated Americans probably do not even know the alphabet so I suggest emoticons: smilie face, neutral face, frowning face and of course skull and cross bones with the word POISON for those cars that people actually are going to buy.

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