Statement of Robert L. Darbelnet on Proposed Fuel Economy Labeling Rules

ORLANDO, Fla., January 10, 2006

“I am pleased to join Administrator Johnson today to commend the work he and his agency are doing to revamp the system by which EPA calculates fuel economy estimates that appear on the window stickers of new vehicles.

From AAA’s perspective, it’s about one simple truth. Consumers want to know that the information they see on a government-sanctioned label reasonably reflects what they will experience on the road. The Administrator and I are here today to say that we can do a better job to achieve that objective, and we can do it without creating an entirely new testing system. We have time to discuss the details during the official comment period, but EPA’s release of this proposal is a very important step in the right direction – one AAA has called for in the past.

Purchasing a new vehicle is an expensive investment that consumers take very personally and make with great care. Many factors contribute to the decision, including vehicle fuel economy, which is becoming more important as consumers experience increasing fuel prices.

Fuel economy labeling is an inexact science, but that’s no excuse to remain tied to a rating system that pre-dates the powerful vehicles and travel patterns we see on our roads today – larger vehicles, traveling at faster speeds, and often packed to the brim.

Last year AAA joined forces with leaders in Congress to make the case that fuel economy ratings were inaccurate, and therefore, misleading. As fuel prices soared upward, consumers became very aware of the disparity between the EPA sticker rating and what they were seeing on the road. And, it’s no wonder why. The testing procedures were first devised in the 1970’s. 

Today’s proposal to revamp the process demonstrates a willingness on the part of EPA to try a new approach – one that will lead to more accurate information for consumers. 

Some may be wary of change, fearing manufacturers would be required to create new and costly testing procedures to improve the accuracy of fuel economy labeling. However, EPA already has a test, known as the US06, which is being used for emissions certification purposes that AAA believed also produced more accurate fuel economy ratings. But, the information from this test is not used for new car MPG labels. To confirm our belief, we commissioned a rigorous study by the Automobile Club of Southern California’s Automotive Research Center, which put some of the most popular vehicles on the road today through the US06 test and compared the results to what drivers experience everyday. Their findings demonstrate that EPA’s US06 test does indeed provide more accurate information than what is currently on new car labels. The Automotive Research Center’s data supports the direction the EPA Administrator is announcing today. Before I get into the specifics of this research, let me make three key points that summarize AAA’s goals:

  • Fuel economy labeling is about truth-in-advertising. It’s about giving consumers the most accurate information possible so that they can make informed decisions when they purchase new vehicles.
  • The research and analysis conducted by the Automotive Research Center confirms that at least one existing test, the USO6, comes closer to reflecting real-world driving conditions.
  • This research also demonstrates that the way a person drives a vehicle can strongly impact the mileage they are likely to get when they’re out on the road. Clearly, consumers are in the driver’s seat when it comes to achieving the best mileage possible from their vehicles.

Let me briefly summarize the testing and analysis done by the Automotive Research Center.

The Automobile Club of Southern California operates a state-of-the-art emissions and vehicle test laboratory in Diamond Bar, California.  Steve Mazor, who manages the Automotive Research Center, is here with us today. Mr. Mazor and his technicians identified 18 models that reflected vehicles popular on the road today: small and large passenger cars, pickup trucks, small and large SUVs, and hybrids. At least one of each model was tested in the laboratory itself. A total of 41 vehicles were tested either in the laboratory or on the road.

The goal of the testing was to objectively measure the accuracy of the information now on the labels and determine if the US06 test provided MPG ratings that more closely mirror real-world driving conditions.

This is what we found:

  • The current system of city/highway measurements significantly overestimates real-world miles per gallon. The current system of fuel economy labeling is based on two tests: one measuring city driving; one measuring highway driving. That’s what you see on the window sticker. There is also a combined EPA rating not found on the window sticker. The tests performed by the Auto Club’s Auto Research Center confirm that the city/highway tests are inaccurate.
  • The results show that 90 percent (36 of the total 41 vehicles tested) experience worse results than the current EPA estimate. The average deviation from EPA ratings was 4 miles per gallon and some were off by as much as 19 miles per gallon.
  • The newer US06 test, currently used for emissions certification purposes, but not for labeling purposes, does a better job of estimating real-world MPG.

In conclusion, the Auto Club’s research confirms the problem and supports the premise that EPA is on the right track by looking to newer testing procedures to improve information on the window sticker. AAA firmly believes that getting the best information to consumers is just good public policy.”

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