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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.

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• A scannable code allows smartphone users to tap online information – including special “apps” that let them compare fuel economy, environmental and energy factors on the fly. Consumers can also enter details about their commutes and driving behavior to get more exact data on fuel savings.

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Loss of letter grade is mourned

While the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and groups like the Consumers Union and the American Automobile Association praised the administration for pushing ahead on new labels, some groups were at least a little bit unhappy.

One key feature – a school-like letter grade to help rate at a glance vehicles against their peers – was dropped. That, according to some groups, was due to pressure from manufacturers that didn't like the idea of unflattering letter grades appearing on some gas guzzling vehicles.

“At a time when the price of gasoline is causing pain at the pump, EPA’s decision to forego clear, letter-grade fuel efficiency labels is a missed opportunity,” said Michael Livermore, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan think-tank on law, environment, and consumers. “At the next opportunity, the agency should correct this error, reflect the latest studies on consumer behavior and select the clearer, letter-grade label design,” he said in a statement.

Dan Becker, who directs the Safe Climate Campaign at the Center for Auto Safety in Washington said that while the new window sticker “offers genuine improvements,” the administration’s decision is “deeply disappointing.”

The improvements include five-year gas savings and more information about pollution, but the administration’s decision to drop the clear letter grade “is a lemon.”

Praise from auto industry

But automakers hailed what they called the new label’s strongest feature: giving the nation a single reference point on fuel economy.

“While the decision to pass on a letter grade has been circulating for weeks, the news today is that EPA is requiring a single national fuel economy label (no more separate label for California),” Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said in a statement.

The automakers were joined by other environmentalists who agreed it was a good move.

“Information is power – in this case, the power for Americans to choose the cleanest new cars,” said Nathan Willcox, Federal Global Warming Program Director for Environment America. “These new labels are an important step toward getting cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars on the road, which will cut air pollution and ease Americans’ pain at the pump.”

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