Going car shopping has never been more complicated for someone who wants to buy a fuel-efficient vehicle. The traditional MPG rating doesn't hold up for some hybrids and electric cars which — depending on how much and where you drive them — might never revert to gas. Which is why car companies such as GM have been lobbying for new EPA standards that make the the benefits of green(er) vehicles more transparent to consumers.
The EPA is responding. In the wake of sweeping efficiency and emission guidelines that rolled out in April, the EPA is revising the information that appears on cars, starting with the 2012 model year. Currently, two labels have been produced and are up for public review on the EPA's site.
Label 1 uses a letter grade from A+ to D to give an instant good/bad rating that takes both fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions into consideration. Just below that, the EPA plans to list a not-yet-created Web site where people can learn more about the ratings and how their personal driving habits could effect them. The amount of money a car owner will save (or spend) over five years is prominently displayed, which is effective since cost-savings could definitely draw in buyers who aren't interested in the car's environmental standards. Below that, a range of environmental factors, from CO2 emissions to the presence of other pollutants. And on the right hand side you'll see a QR code, which will let people compare dealer prices and the efficiency of other cars on the spot—pretty useful for anyone on the lot.
The second label doesn't use a letter grade, it's obviously horizontal, and it's a bit simpler. On the second label it's also easy to see the different labels for gasoline cars (top), electric vehicles, compressed natural gas vehicles and hybrid vehicles (bottom). They're slightly modified to show the different MPG ratings when using gas only or an electric/gas mix—an extremely nuanced set of data since some people might not understand how a hybrid car works. It's handled pretty well on the hybrid label.
Will they work? That is, will they educate consumers — and help sell greener vehicles — by making the true costs easier to understand? (It's worth noting that a stoplight system for food labels has been shown to improve the healthiness of food choices.)
You can submit a comment with your preference or to give feedback to help improve them (for reference, here's the current label). Do they leave out critical information? Could you design a better one?