You’re in a car dealership looking to buy a new car. Chances are, you’re going to look at the sticker in the backseat window. You know, the one with the fuel efficiency numbers. But you won’t look for too long. Say 20-30 seconds, tops. Of the following two labels, which one is going to help you figure out the fuel tank’s consequences for the environment and your wallet?
The Environmental Protection Agency hopes you said the first one, which tries to highlight the pocketbook impact better, and adds new details about environmental friendliness. As part of window sticker requirements starting in 2012, the agency is looking to make some changes. The agency is considering swapping the bottom sticker for the top one.
Now consider this sticker, which the EPA is also considering.
The same information that’s on the first label is all there, but of course, there’s now that giant letter grade that’s supposed to sum up fuel and environmental specs for the car in comparison to all other models (cars, trucks, and SUVS) on the market. Reports the NYT:
The highest grade, A+, with fuel economy rated as equivalent to 117 miles per gallon and up, would be for “zero emission” electric cars. Plug-in hybrid electric cars (59 to 116 m.p.g. equivalent) would get an A, and some conventional hybrids, like the Toyota Prius and Ford Fusion, would get an A-. Other hybrids, like the Nissan Altima, Ford Escape and Toyota Camry, would receive a B+.
On the positive side, a school-like grading system is one that everyone is intimately familiar with and, therefore, requires no additional explanation (no grade inflation jokes, please). On the negative side, because grades are so closely tied to education, interpreting them with automobiles is more complicated. In school, everyone wants an A. In a showroom, everyone probably doesn’t want an A. Fuel consumption and environmental friendliness are only two of a host of dimensions buyers will consider. Maybe fuel efficiency is my top priority. Or maybe my top priority is actually a car with lots of towing power, although I’m happy to get the one that sips the least gas. Since the sticker only comes with a grade, and not pictures (or even names would be ok) of other cars with similar grades, I don’t know how heavily to factor it in my decision. Yes, a shopper can go dig up the kinds of details about A+ vs. B+ cars as reported in the New York Times, but the point is if it’s not on the sticker, it’s likely to be ignored.
The EPA hasn’t decided which sticker to have automakers adopt. If you have thoughts, you can let the EPA know here. Hat tip: Colin Manuel.