My column last week explaining why my family owns a Honda Fit instead of a hybrid apparently hit a nerve with some readers, who reacted as if I'd personally excommunicated the Toyota Prius and its ilk from the environmental family. Far from it, I love hybrids, but I also expect high fuel economy and low emissions.The trouble is that consumers don't always have the facts when it comes to judging a car's overall environmental score. Sure, the window sticker gives you city and highway fuel economy numbers -- that's required by federal law -- but often there's no other useful information.
Early last year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a new version of the window sticker that adds a few useful features. For instance, it compares the vehicle's fuel economy to the rest of the fleet, and it estimates annual gasoline costs. But there's still no emissions information. According to Resources for the Future (RFF), an average car produces 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) for every gallon of gasoline burned, or 13,000 pounds per year. The best performers score under 11,000 pounds; the worst, over 16,500.
The EPA's proposed window sticker revision adds some useful new information, but could go farther.
RFF would make it easy for consumers by requiring automakers to decorate their windows with color-coded stickers rating vehicles from best to worst in terms of CO2 production. The federal government is unlikely to do this anytime soon, but some states are already far ahead of the curve. California enacted a law in 2005 requiring that both CO2 and tailpipe emissions (with a 1-to-10 grading system) be displayed on new vehicles beginning with the 2009 model year.
Resources for the Future proposed these colorful -- and useful -- labels.
And in August Governor Eliot Spitzer signed a similar bill for New York State, to take effect with 2010 cars and trucks. The sticker will compare the global warming emissions of the vehicle in question with the average for that model year, and also identify that year's cleanest model in the class. I like that last provision, because it gives carmakers an incentive to produce class winners. And incentives to do good are what our automakers desperately need.
Click here to see Great Britain's current window sticker, which is full of environmental data.
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