Last week the EPA released mock-ups of two proposals for new window stickers, requesting comments. (You can download the complete set of labels here.) This was not a surprise--the new labels were mandated in fairly specific terms back in 2007. I even sent a letter to the EPA with some suggestions early last year. (A copy is here.)
What may be a surprise is that most of the comments seem to be negative. This piece in Automotive News seems typical.
It is the new letter grade for a vehicle that seems most controversial.
Being a consumer oriented organization, we thought we would ask actual car buyers for their opinion. They have an overwhelming preference for one design over the other. (Sorry--we won't publish the results until next week.) For now, suffice to say the grade idea is not popular. Reasons vary, but the common theme is that the grade could be construed as a government evaluation of the entire vehicle, not just fuel economy and emissions. (Taking the simplicity idea to an extreme.)
Lots of calls have been coming in looking for the Edmunds position on the new stickers. Our formal view will be published Monday. In preparation, I have been collecting my own thoughts. Here they are (in no particular order):
1/ The stickers look better.
2/ They provide a lot more data (at least on design 2).
3/ The smart phone scanner is a nice attempt to be current.
4/ I understand why the letter grade has appeal to the label designers. There is lots to absorb and the grade shows they understand the need to simplify.
5/ The sticker featuring the letter grade does not display all available data. For instance, the annual operating costs is absent. This is a very bad idea.
But all this misses the point. Fussing about the sticker design reflects an understanding of car buying as it existed 20 years ago, back when consumers visited dealerships to make decisions about which vehicle to buy.
Today this is all happening on the Internet. So the real question is how this information on the stickers will be used by consumers as part of that decisioning process. What will car companies be allowed to advertise? How will the information be comparable across categories? (Car buyers often consider vehicles in completely different segments and the data needs to support these comparisons.)
Obviously, Edmunds will make all the EPA data available to car buyers as soon as it is available. Critically, we will make up for any deficiencies that might get in the way of the data being fully useful to consumers. (Cross category comparability being key.)
We will do this reluctantly as any variation in how the data is displayed presents opportunities for consumers to get confused.
It would be better if the EPA could get this right in the first place.