Edmunds.com Visitors Say EPA Fuel Economy Labels Need Improvement

By Michelle Krebs September 13, 2010

When the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency invited the public to choose between two Label 2 EPA Fuel Economy label 375.JPGproposed redesigns of the traditional new car window stickers regarding fuel economy ratings a few weeks ago, Edmunds.com asked visitors to its site for their opinion.

"There seems to be a viscerally negative reaction to the notion of a letter grade," observed Edmunds.com CEO Jeremy Anwyl in a summary he sent to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson Monday.

In his letter, the full text of which is at the bottom of this post, Anwyl urged the EPA to use this as an opportunity to think more broadly about how the stickers can really help consumers actually buying vehicles today rather than in the very different era when EPA window stickers were first conceived.

 

Survey says:

Label 1 EPA Fuel Economy label - 250.JPGMore than 80 percent of respondents to Edmunds.com's unscientific survey preferred "Sticker 2," which provides a more complete body of information rather than the simple letter grade featured in the proposal for "Sticker 1."

Given the comments collected in the poll, it seems that many respondents actively voted against "Sticker 1" rather than for "Sticker 2." For example, one person wrote, "Let's present fact, not positive/negative connotation without context."

Edmunds.com Survey Results:  

 

Voted

Percentage

Option 1

66

18%

Option 2

310

82%

Total

376

100%

Stickers Are Beside the Point

Window stickers were originally mandated in 1958. At that time, consumers obtained vehicle information by driving from dealer to dealer, asking questions and getting brochures. The sticker played a useful role as a provider of information at the point of decision. But today, consumers largely make decisions about which vehicle to buy before visiting the dealership.

Edmunds.com believes that the EPA can add huge value in providing the standards behind the data so that consumers can truly benefit from the development of this valuable policy. The new stickers should cover all vehicles, ensuring apples-to-apples comparisons even across vehicle categories (to assist people considering both SUVs and pick-up trucks, for example.) 

It should also be clear what the data does not cover, such as the environmental impacts of manufacturing and transporting the vehicle. And, critically, the EPA should dictate how automakers will be allowed to use the data.

Another set of survey comments included the following, "Auto companies will start making incredibly fuel efficient cars to get an A grade, which is good, but the over-all quality of the car itself could be lowered." Someone who voted for Sticker 1 commented, "If changing consumer buying habits is one of the goals here, then the 'letter-grading version' will be more successful," seeming to foresee the potential marketing opportunity that the letter grade provides.

Anwyl's final point to Administrator Jackson was, "It would also make things easier for consumers if the information is expressed in terms of monthly costs. We find that consumers care about emissions and MPG but generally make commitments based on costs. This is probably the single data point that is most easily comparable and as such will play an increasingly important role in a consumer's decision-making."

Anwyl further discusses the EPA window sticker redesign proposal in his "Just to Clarify" blog.

Graphic: Edmunds.com visitors who voted in the site's survey overwhelmingly preferred the EPA label that included more detailed information over more simplified ones.

 

 

 

Anwyl's letter to EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson appears in its entirety below:

Dear Administrator Jackson,

Please accept this letter as our response to your request for comments on the new congressionally mandated vehicle window stickers.

First, I should state that Edmunds is not completely neutral on this issue. We have a strong car buyer/consumer orientation. With this in mind we thought it would be useful to survey actual car buyers to solicit their opinions.

I have attached more detail, but in summary the respondents have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the more complete sticker (Sticker 2.) It wasn't even close: More than 80% favored the second sticker.

Comments generally stressed the more comprehensive design of the second sticker, although there also seems to be a viscerally negative reaction to the notion of a letter grade.

I am not wild about the letter-grading system either. I understand the attempt to simplify, but this should never extend to dumbing down. What does the letter actually mean?

Most of my comments go beyond the design of the individual stickers. I realize the exercise was mandated by Congress, but the EPA should use this as an opportunity to think more broadly. Here is where the stickers really fail. Speaking bluntly, they look like the product of a team of very bright people, but people who perhaps lack experience with how consumers actually buy vehicles today.

When EPA window stickers were first conceived, consumers obtained vehicle information by driving from dealer to dealer, asking questions and getting brochures. The sticker played a useful role as a provider of information at the point of decision. But today, for most consumers, the sticker is something they have removed from the vehicle before they take it home.

Consumers largely make decisions about which vehicle to buy before visiting the dealership. Keeping this in mind, I can't get too worked up over sticker design. What is of interest is the completeness of the information, how useful it will be to consumers and how will it be put to use. I think providing more information is great. EPA can add huge value in providing the standards behind the data that ensures apples-to-apples comparisons. This data needs to cover all vehicles and allow cross-category comparisons. It should also be clear what the data does not cover (impact of transporting the vehicle, vehicle manufacture, etc.).

Critically, how will manufacturers be allowed to use the data? Consider the mess today where we have MPGe, CAFE, city, highway and combined figures all being bandied about.

This may seem a small point, but it would also make things easier for consumers if the information is expressed in terms of monthly costs. Most consumers do not think in terms of annual budgets. It is a small point but an important one, as we find that consumers care about emissions and MPG but generally make commitments based on costs. This is probably the single data point that is most easily comparable and as such will play an increasingly important role in a consumer's decision-making.

So that's it. We are currently conducting a second consumer survey to solicit more detailed feedback. If anything of interest develops, I will be sure to pass it along. In the meantime, please don't hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or would like to discuss any of our feedback further.

Sincerely,

Jeremy P. Anwyl

CEO, Edmunds.com Inc.

 

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