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Consumers sound off: They don't want letter grade fuel stickers

November 12, 2010

Consumers apparently want the EPA’s proposed letter grading fuel economy sticker to take a seat in the dunce chair.

The Environmental Protection Agency has given the public two options for a new fuel economy sticker: One that simplifies the performance of a vehicle to a letter grade along with some charts and data, and one that just uses the charts and data. A poll they conducted by Edmunds.com shows 80 percent of respondents wanted the sticker that doesn’t give a grade.

Remarkably, the responses are in line with what automakers say: The letter grade is too simplistic.

"There seems to be a viscerally negative reaction to the notion of a letter grade," said Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl in a summary he included in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson. "I am not wild about the letter-grading system either.

"I understand the attempt to simplify, but this should never extend to dumbing down."

One of the problems with the grading system is that it classifies cars by groups: Electric cars would get an A+; macho sports cars would get Ds. That makes it harder to compare vehicles by segment — if you are going to by an electric car, wouldn’t it be better to know which car was the best in that segment, and which car performed worse in that class?

Edmunds says some consumers are worried that automakers will start focusing on their letter grade, while letting overall quality slip.

Anwyl’s said the EPA should consider offering buyers a figure explaining the average monthly cost to drive the car.

"We find that consumers care about emissions and MPG – but generally make purchase commitments based on costs," he said. "Monthly fuel cost is probably the data point that is most easily comparable across vehicles."

 

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