EPA seeks comments on FFV fuel label

By Kris Bevill | August 27, 2010
Posted Aug. 31, 2010

The U.S. EPA and the U.S. Department of Transportation are proposing to overhaul the fuel economy labels which are displayed on every new vehicle for sale in the U.S. During a news conference to discuss the proposed new labels, EPA Assistant Administrator Gina McCarthy said the alterations will be the broadest changes made to the labels since their debut more than 30 years ago. "As new fuel savings and emissions cutting technologies emerge from the laboratory and start appearing on showroom floors and in driveways across America, we think a new label is absolutely necessary to help consumers make the right decision for their wallets and for the environment," she said.

The agencies offer two design options in their proposal. The first design features a letter grade, which will reflect the vehicle's combined fuel economy and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions performance. The second design option is similar to the current label, but adds fuel consumption and emissions information and includes a slider bar to illustrate the car's performance compared to other vehicles.

Flex fuel vehicles (FFVs) have specific labeling requirements, which require the vehicle to be identified as a FFV, list the fuels that can be used in the vehicle and indicate the fuel economy of the vehicle when operated on gasoline. In its proposal for new labeling requirements, the agencies have suggested three options for FFV labels.

The first proposed option is to continue with the current labeling requirements. This would result in FFV labels listing a lower fuel economy for E85 than gasoline. The second option would require the labels to include fuel economy values calculated in miles per gallon. The EPA acknowledges that this approach would result in a label stating that E85 results in fewer miles per gallon than gasoline, so it suggests adding text to the label that says: "While the E85 MPG values are lower than the gasoline MPG values, the use of E85 is typically slightly more energy efficient than the use of gasoline." Additionally, the EPA said it could add CO2 emission rates, which would be lower for E85 than gasoline, and fuel costs. The EPA's third suggestion is to list the vehicle's fuel economy in miles per gallon of gasoline-equivalent, which it said would illustrate the slightly higher miles per unit of energy that a vehicle fueled with E85 rather than gasoline would achieve.

The EPA's goal to combine fuel economy and GHG emissions performance into one rating admittedly presents a problem when labeling FFVs, because those vehicles can be operated on more than one type of fuel. In its proposal, the EPA said that "empirical evidence" shows that 99 percent of FFV owners use gasoline instead of E85 and therefore it proposes to base combined fuel economy-GHG emissions ratings for FFVs on gasoline. "However, if a manufacturer can demonstrate that some of its FFVs are in fact using E85 fuel in use, then the merged values can be based in part on E85 performance, prorated based on the percentage of the fleet using E85 in the field," the agency wrote in its proposal.

The EPA is accepting comments on all of its proposed labeling changes, including the trio of FFV options and the proposal to base merged ratings for FFVs on gasoline use rather than E85. Comments will be accepted for 60 days following the proposal's publication in the Federal Register. A public hearing will also be scheduled in the coming weeks. For information on submitting comments or to view the entire proposed rule, visit www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/.