Today's cars not so fuel-efficient under proposed new EPA letter grades

report card - proposed rating system for fuel-efficient cardsIf a proposed new Environmental Protection Agency grading system of automobile fuel efficiency was in place today, the industry's report card would look pretty dismal: fewer than 1% of 2010 vehicles would get an A.

A Consumer Federation of America analysis says that 0.5% of vehicles received an A, 56.9% received a B and 39.4% received a C. The lowest grade of D went to 3.2% of vehicles. Rating cars in a new way could be a good thing for consumers because it would force automakers to create more fuel-efficient cars, advocates say.

"The good news is that there's no question in my mind that having these grades will create intense competition," Jack Gillis, spokesman for the CFA, told Consumer Ally. "Having that information in the marketplace is going to be a very powerful motivator so the free market will drive the improved performance of vehicles and that's always the best way to improve performance."

Automakers, however, are not keen on the EPA's proposal to replace existing fuel economy stickers with a new label. Two different labels are under consideration, with examples posted on the EPA's website.

A spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers could not be reached for comment. However, David McCurdy, the group's CEO, has said that the proposal falls short and is "imbued with school-yard memories of passing and failing."

The EPA says the revised labels would make car comparison easier for consumers. The labels would be included on all gasoline and diesel vehicles as well as electric and plug-in hybrids. Vehicles would be rated not only on fuel economy but also greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollutants. The EPA is looking for input from consumers. A 60-day comment period was set to begin Sept. 23, but the EPA is already accepting comments. The last day to comment is Nov. 23.

The first label under consideration shows a letter grade -- ranging from D to A+ -- prominently displayed at the top, followed by how much the buyer would save in fuel costs over five years. Other information such as the vehicle's fuel efficiency, and greenhouse gas emissions is listed below that.

The second label lists the combined city and highway miles per gallon and annual fuel cost at the top instead of a letter grade. Listed below that is information on how the vehicle compares to others and its impact on the environment.

Gillis said opposition to the labels is reminiscent of the auto industry's opposition to crash test ratings. Ultimately, those tests led to safer cars, he said. In 1990, for example, less than half of vehicles tested received four or five stars. Today, that number is 98%, according to Gillis.

Whether consumers will welcome or reject the new labels remains to be seen. But a poll conducted recently by found 18% of those surveyed favored the label with the letter grade. However, 82% of the 376 people polled said they favored the second sticker option. Edmunds sent its results to the EPA.

Here is a chart of the top and bottom performers:

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