The Obama administration on Wednesday announced a new labeling system meant to help American consumers shop for new cars. Rating cars based on fuel efficiency and annual fuel costs, the program will summarize key costs and emissions on a single sticker.
Automakers will be required to use the stickers with a 10-point rating system on all 2013 model-year vehicles, though they will have the option of applying them to 2012 models. Along with a box-shaped QR bar code that will be readable by smart phones, the stickers will allow car shoppers to estimate potential fuel savings over a five-year period.
"A new generation of cars requires a new generation of fuel-economy labels," said Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson at a news conference at the Department of Transportation headquarters in Washington.
Jackson joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to unveil the labels and standards, which will be applied to three different vehicle categories -- gasoline, plug-in hybrid electric and electric. Fuel economy for all new cars will be assessed in miles per gallon and mpg-equivalent terms. The MPGe unit for hybrid and electric cars will estimate the amount of fuel with an energy content similar to gasoline that a vehicle will use.
Annual fuel costs and fuel savings compared with average new vehicles will also be listed, along with official fuel economy, greenhouse gas and smog ratings.
LaHood called the standards "an important mile marker" in Obama's broader efforts to improve emissions standards and energy use.
"They'll help keep America moving down the road to energy independence," he said.
The 10-point scale replaced a previously proposed grading system, which would have given A, B, C or D scores for performance. Potential designs for the stickers were shown to focus groups over the last year. About half of participants preferred the numeric system over letters, according to Jackson, but the information on the final stickers is meant to present data in the most useful way possible.
"You definitely want to know in dollars and cents what a vehicle is going to cost you in terms of fuel," Chicago Automobile Trade Association President David Sloan said.
Sloan believes that the numeric ratings will ultimately be more meaningful as buyers evaluate their options.
"Everybody knows miles per gallon," he explained.
Consumers Union President Jim Guest praised the new stickers, saying that the system would make it "easier for consumers to compare their choices within and across categories of vehicles."
Guest cited a recent Consumer Reports survey of new car buyers, which indicated that 62 percent of new car buyers questioned intend to purchase more fuel-efficient vehicles than they currently drive. Moreover, 73 percent would at least consider vehicles that run on alternative fuels.
The box-shaped QR codes, meanwhile, will allow shoppers to access additional resources. After scanning a code with an app on a smart phone, users will be able to assess savings and fuel-efficiency based on their personal habits and location.
"This administration led by the president is very concerned about gasoline prices," LaHood said.
The stickers come as a follow-up to new federal standards that will demand all new U.S. vehicles average 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. In the end, the administration expects the regulations to save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and $3,000 for the average consumer over the next five years.