In late August, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Transportation revealed two possible new designs for car labels. One of the proposed designs would prominently display the vehicle’s environmental grade via a traditional letter grading scale.

The second proposed design omits the large letter grade and instead provides more detailed information about how the specific vehicle compares to others in terms of fuel efficiency.

These new labels would come equipped with a barcode that can be scanned by smartphones. Once scanned, buyers will be redirected to a website with more detailed information about the vehicle’s fuel efficiency, average fuel costs, and tailpipe emissions. At the same time the website would allow car shoppers to quickly compare multiple vehicles as well as estimate fuel efficiency based on their individual driving habits.

While the new labels provide a lot of upfront information to car buyers, they may just be giving out too much information. A recent survey (PDF) conducted by Siegel+Gale reveals that the proposed labels may send buyers into information overload.

The survey polled 456 Americans over the age of 18 who are planning to purchase a new car in the next three years. Of those surveyed, 47 percent found that the label with the environmental grade (the vertical label) was confusing and 38 percent were confused by at least part of the information presented in the second proposed design (the horizontal label.)

Based on the survey responses, Siegel+Gale has identified four key areas in which the designers missed the mark with the vertical label:

  • Emphasizing a letter grade
  • De-emphasizing miles per gallon
  • Presenting data without a brief explanation
  • Emphasizing savings over time instead of the cost of operation
In other words, today’s consumers want to know the fuel efficiency of the car and how much it is going to cost to fill the tank and drive around town. They appear to be less concerned about the money that can be saved with a more fuel-efficient vehicle over the long haul and the car’s tailpipe emissions. Surprisingly, 38 percent of those responded that they would buy a car with a C or lower environmental grade.
“By giving so much space on the label to the letter grade, other data were presented with little or no context and crammed into the lower third of the label, causing confusion,” says Alan Siegel, founder and chairman of Siegel+Gale and a pioneer in promoting simplicity in communications. “Our survey demonstrates that Americans want clarity and usefulness in communications from government agencies. The redesign of the fuel economy label is a major initiative that will touch countless Americans. Now is the time for the federal government to show its commitment to making clear communications a national priority.” Source: Siegel+Gale

Ultimately Siegel recommends that the EPA ditch the vertical label and instead fine-tune the horizontal label. More emphasis needs to be placed on the vehicle’s fuel efficiency and cost of ownership while omitting the extra logos that serve as visual clutter.

When the EPA and the DOT announced this new label, it opened up a section of the website dedicated to public feedback. The 60-day public comment period will continue for about another month, so consumers still have time to weigh in on the issue.

See also:

Fuel efficient transportation