New labels may help inform consumer choices.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently issued new vehicle fuel economy labels that must appear on model year 2013 and later vehicles.
In addition to estimating a vehicle’s annual fuel cost, the new label will need to compare a vehicle’s expected five-year fuel cost with the equivalent cost for the average model year vehicle. The current label only includes basic information about fuel economy and estimated annual fuel cost. Under the new rule, a label will need for the first time to compare vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions.
According to Penn Law Professor Cary Coglianese, the impact of the new labels on consumer purchasing choices is unclear. “The new labels give consumers more information,” he notes. “But it remains to be seen whether that information will lead to any improvements in the energy efficiency of cars sold in the United States.”
Last year, NHTSA and EPA requested public comments on several different label proposals, one of which would have used a letter grade to score the vehicle’s fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. Automobile groups generally opposed the letter grade proposal, while some environmental organizations favored it. Penn Law’s Environmental Law Project, a student pro bono group, submitted a comment on the proposed fuel economy labels advocating a label that would combine elements, including the letter grade, of several of EPA’s proposed labels.
In the end, NHTSA and EPA abandoned the letter grade proposal altogether. Nevertheless, the agencies note that their joint final rule represents the most innovative change to fuel economy labels since the labeling program began in the 1970s.
To take account of the increasingly varied fuels used in the nation’s fleet of automobiles, EPA and NHTSA have also provided in the same rule for slightly different label designs for hybrid and electric vehicles.