Coming to Grips with EV Labels

Explained in detail in 125 pages of Thursday's Federal Register are the proposed labels NHTSA and EPA have crafted for new plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and electric vehicles (EVs) starting with the 2012 model year. The fuel economy/greenhouse gas rating is a new idea for U.S. consumers, never needed until these alternative technologies became popular, but that day is at hand.

The proposed designs are quite different. While both would be smartphone-readable, one incorporates a letter grade from A+ to D for fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions and a dollar figure showing how much that vehicle saves compared with (or costs more than) the average vehicle. The other emphasizes miles per gallon or miles per gallon equivalent and where the vehicle stands on a horizontal graph of other vehicles from worst to best. EPA and NHTSA seek comments by Nov. 22 on a third label and will jointly hold two public hearings (Chicago, Wyndham Hotel, 633 North St. Clair St., on Oct. 14; and Los Angeles, Sheraton Los Angeles Downtown Hotel, 711 South Hope St., on Oct. 21) with daytime and evening sessions at each location.

They predict significant consumer confusion when multiple advanced vehicle technologies begin competing in the U.S. market. "We have no illusions that our advanced technology labels will completely resolve this consumer confusion, but we do hope they will help to reduce the confusion," they said in the document. "We are certain that advanced technology labels will be more complicated than conventional vehicle labels."

They convened 32 focus groups with a total of 256 participants who said they want these things from a new car label:

  • Create an immediate first impression for consumers.
  • Be easy to read and understand quickly.
  • Clearly identify vehicle technology (conventional, EV, PHEV).
  • Utilize color.
  • Chunk information to allow people to deal with "more information."
  • Be consistent in content and design across technologies.
  • Allow for comparison across technologies.
  • Make it easy to identify the most fuel efficient and environmentally friendly vehicles.

An expert panel then was assembled and shown the designs. The panelists's guidance:

  • Keep it simple; we yearn for simplicity.
  • Consumers don't act on details.
  • Remember the reality of very short label viewing time -- roll ratings and metrics up into a single score.
  • Use cost savings information -- a very strong consumer motivator.
  • Develop a Web site that would be launched in conjunction with the new label. This consumer-focused, user friendly Web site would provide more specific information on the label including additional information on the letter grade, along with access to the tools, applications, and social media.

The two agencies will conduct an online survey in the public docket and publish the results before issuing a final rule with the new label requirements. To check the docket, search EPA-HQ-OAR-2009-0865\141\ or NHTSA-2010-0087 at

Posted by Jerry Laws on Sep 23, 2010