New car consumers to get more than MPG

A proposed overhaul of existing fuel economy ratings would add environmental performance and cost comparisons to new cars' window stickers.

Vehicles also would be issued a letter grade.

That means along with checking out miles-per-gallon ratings, consumers at new car lots also would get the chance to study information on a model's smog production and its impact on public health. The proposals were issued Monday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“We are asking the American people to tell us what they need to make the best economic and environmental decisions when buying a new car,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson in a statement. “New fuel economy labels will keep pace with the new generation of fuel efficient cars and trucks rolling off the line and provide simple, straightforward updates to inform consumers about their choices in a rapidly changing market.”

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said it's all about new technology: electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. “We need to provide consumers with labels that include fuel economy and environmental information so that buyers can make better informed decisions when purchasing new vehicles,” he said.

There are two proposed labels. The agencies request that those interested review the labels at and submit comments to

The one that jumps out offers a letter grade prominently. How willing will consumers be to purchase a vehicle that pulls a D? Depends. Does that D also pull a big boat all the way to Shaver Lake or the Sacramento San Joaquin Delta? Or does it tow a horse or steer trailer in high winds up the pass?

Then the answer is: Give me towing capacity or I'll get a truck with a rebuilt 454.

DOT and EPA say the changes are part of an effort to follow the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which specifically calls on them to rate available vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions and smog forming pollutants. The new design also is to provide consumers with an estimated fuel cost savings over five years compared to an average gasoline-powered vehicle of the same model year.

For electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, the agencies are proposing to show energy use by translating electricity consumption into MPG equivalent and energy use in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

The moves are sure to generate a lot of debate. Here's a past back and forth on between folks who appear to be from the automotive press discussing the finer points of measuring fuel consumption and establishing ratings.