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Will smart-phone friendly mileage stickers help car buyers make smarter choices?

The EPA's next generation of mileage labels are smart-phone friendly and were designed to give consumers more ways to compare the efficiency and pollution levels of vehicles of all engine types.

By Staff writer / May 25, 2011

This is the new fuel-efficiency label unveiled by the Obama administration. Click to the next photo to see the old label.

EPA

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Amid soaring gasoline prices, the Obama administration Wednesday unveiled new fuel-efficiency labels to appear on 2013 vehicle models that feature a host of new comparison points on mileage and will even enable smart-phone users to scan labels and compare multiple vehicles as they tromp through showrooms.

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Touting it as the biggest-ever overhaul of the 35-year old labeling system, the evaluation system developed jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation is supposed to help consumers compare a range of “next generation” vehicle technologies – hybrid, plug-in hybrid, all-electric, flex-fuel and natural-gas-powered vehicles – as well as traditional gasoline engines.

“Today’s car buyers want the best possible information about which cars on the lot offer the greatest fuel economy and the best environmental performance,” said the EPA administrator, Lisa P. Jackson. “The new labels provide comprehensive information to American car buyers, helping them make a choice that will save money at the gas pump and prevent pollution in the air we breathe.”

A Consumers Unions survey released Wednesday found 62 percent of car owners would consider better fuel economy as a key attribute in their next new car, with 58 percent saying they would pay more for a car that used less fuel.

While development of the new mileage label was mandated by Congress in 2007, the Obama administration in its 2010 ruling on fuel economy required the biggest boost in energy efficiency of cars and trucks in decades. According to the administration, vehicles built in model years 2012 through 2016 should save the nation 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of the vehicles, and a vehicle purchased in 2016 would save its owner an average of $3,000 in fuel costs over its lifetime.

Comparing new-technology cars

The new labels, for instance, feature new ways to compare energy use and cost between new-technology cars that use electricity and conventional cars that are gasoline-powered. For instance, for plug-in hybrid vehicles, an illustration on the label shows how much the vehicle can go just on battery power – and then on gasoline – and gives mile-per-gallon equivalents for electricity used.

The labels also offer:

• Useful estimates on how much consumers will save or spend on fuel over the next five years compared to the average new vehicle. While the old label included an “estimated annual fuel cost” the new label will include how much is saved over five years as well as annually on fuel.

• Easy-to-read ratings (similar to Energy Star ratings on appliances) of how a model compares to all others for smog emissions and emissions of pollution that contribute to climate change. Two bars offer a 1-10 scale for smog and for greenhouse gas emissions – and place the vehicle's performance on that.

• An estimate of how much fuel or electricity it takes to drive 100 miles. This is especially useful when comparing plug-in hybrid vehicles with one another since some hybrids use their gasoline engines along with their electric motors all the time – while others use electric motors all the time – and gasoline engines some of the time.

• Information on the driving range between charges and charging time of an electric vehicle.

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