The government is considering making the task of identifying fuel-efficient cars as easy as ABC—literally. A fuel economy grading system that would inform car buyers about gas consumption has been at the center of opposition between automakers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the new EPA-proposed notion, letter grades of A, B, C and D would join sticker showroom labels to classify how good a vehicle’s fuel economy is. Grade A would be considered passing while a grade of D would be viewed as failing.

Automakers however, have been reluctant to adhere to the idea of letter grades in fear of a biased effect on potential sales. “Proposed letter grades fall short because it is imbued with school-yard memories of passing and failing,” said Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers CEO David McCurdy in a press release.

A recent study done by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA) concluded that under the proposed grading system, less than one percent of 2010 vehicles would actually grade out to an A and over 40 percent of this year’s vehicles would grade out to a C or lower. According to the study, the Honda FCX, Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and the Honda Insight all received letter grades of A while the Bentley Azure, Bugatti Veyron and Lamborghini all ranked among the year’s worst performers. An installed grading system would be expected to push car companies to improve fuel-efficiency performance as America tries to transition away from its gas-guzzling heavy duty vehicles.

“For years, car companies were focusing on big, heavy SUVs,” says Jack Gillis, CFA director of public affairs and author of The Car Book. “Not only were these SUVs very fuel inefficient but they were very profitable for the manufacturers so they resisted moving away from these larger vehicles to smaller more fuel-efficient vehicles because they weren’t as profitable. Now that the car companies have finally realized that the American consumer really does want a fuel-efficient vehicle, we’ve seen efforts in the right direction by the companies to improve fuel economy.”


Stephen D. Riley

Special to the AFRO