Fuel economy is always a hot topic, because it factors into so many other issues: climate change and the environment, the viability of the auto industry, and the nation's dependence on foreign oil and those inherent national security implications. Now we have another debate to add to the list: What the fuel economy label itself should look like. The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation have announced a joint proposal to modify the fuel economy section that's a part of the window sticker on every new vehicle offered for sale. The agencies are seeking public opinion, over a 60-day period, on the design of the labels and the information that would be listed on them.

The public can view the proposals at www.epa.gov/fueleconomy and submit comments via e-mail by writing to newlabels@epa.gov.

Translogic is excited to see that new automotive technology has prompted government regulators to reconsider the venerable fuel economy label, but we couldn't help but wonder what might happen if some of our favorite designers were tasked with tackling the redesign. So, we asked Draplin Design Co., Script & Seal, and GRID, LLC to take a shot at reimagining the label.

Click one of the three designs below to see their concepts and supporting rational:

The new labels will be the biggest change in 30 years when it comes to how the government reports a vehicle's fuel economy. While the goal of the new labels is to provide consumers with data to help buyers make straightforward fuel-efficiency and environmental comparisons when choosing among various types of vehicles one proposal includes a "grading system" that has drawn criticism from some auto-industry trade groups.

The impetus for the new labels traces back to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush. That law instructed the EPA and DOT to rate vehicles according to fuel economy, greenhouse gas emissions, and smog-forming pollutants.

For gas-electric hybrids, plug-ins and electric vehicles, this new label design will also offer prospective buyers an estimate of the expected fuel cost savings over five years when compared to an average gasoline-powered vehicle of the same model year. One of two proposed labels would focus on miles per gallon and annual fuel costs, but would not include the letter grades. In both cases, the designs would significantly expand the content found on current vehicle labels, as well as providing information via a new web-based interactive tool that can also be accessed by smart phone.

For labels on electric vehicles and plug-ins, the proposals would more accurately convey energy use by translating electricity consumption into a miles-per-gallon equivalent. The proposed labels for electric vehicles would also include energy use expressed in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.

The National Auto Dealers Association is critical of some aspects of the proposed new labels. "During the 60-day public comment period... NADA will likely oppose any proposed label design that would mandate a letter grade for a vehicle's overall fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions performance," said NADA spokesman Charles Cyrill.

Doug Greenhuas, NADA's director of environment, health and safety, said, "The proposal should be grading along the curve, or, alternatively, should simply note outstanding performers along -- and above -- the curve."

At the August 30 press conference announcing the proposed new labels, Gina McCarthy, the EPA's assistant administrator for air and radiation, said that grades would indeed "follow a pretty standard bell curve."

After getting public input, the agencies will hold hearings and make their decision on a final label design in early 2011. The agencies want to wrap up the process in time to get the new label on the windows of as many 2012 model-year vehicles as possible.

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