EPA/DOT Proposed Fuel Economy Labels – Click above for high-res versions

It's always a tough road to hoe when it comes time to make wholesale changes to something consumers know and are comfortable with – just ask Car and Driver. But, progress is progress, and sometimes a redesign is necessary in order to keep pace with the times.

Such is the case with today's fuel economy labels. Although we all understand what miles per gallon means (well, mostly...) and what kind of figures we should expect from a given type of vehicle, the future has plenty in store that will drastically change all of that; namely, electric cars and plug-in hybrids. That being the case, the Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Transportation were charged with designing completely revised fuel economy labels for new vehicles at the dealership.

Judging by the response from our earlier article on the subject, consumers are split on the effectiveness of the new stickers. A new study from Siegel+Gale seems to confirm this suspicion. The full details can be found in the press release after the break and from this PDF, but the gist is as follows.

Two-thirds of respondents preferred the horizontal option over the vertical option (see here), but 38-percent still found something confusing about the winning label. Respondents said that miles per gallon scored an 86 (out of 100) as the most important figure, while greenhouse gas emissions scored a 68.

As for us, we're thinking that much of the problem lies with the fact that the public at large still doesn't understand electric vehicles and, more specifically, extended-range electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Many of the features consumers say they could do without were added to the labels in an attempt to give an accurate representation of electric vehicle mileage benefits.

[Source: Siegel+Gale]

EPA Misses the Mark on Fuel Consumption Labels

New Survey Reveals 85 percent of Americans Want Information, but Both Proposed Labels Cause Confusion and Fail to Meet Their Information Needs

NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 28, 2010 – A survey released today found both of the new automobile fuel economy labels proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to be confusing. Overall, 66 percent rejected the version that emphasized a prominent letter grade (the vertical label) and favored the one that focused on miles per gallon (the Horizontal Label)-see samples here. While respondents preferred the horizontal label, 38 percent found some aspect of the horizontal label confusing.

The survey-polling a nationally projectable group of 456 Americans over the age of 18 who are looking to buy a car within the next three years-was conducted by Siegel+Gale, a global strategic branding firm and pioneer in bringing clarity to business and government communications. The Siegel+Gale SimplicityLab™ measured the perception and comprehension of two labels illustrating data about a gas/electric hybrid vehicle-one of the many alternative fuel vehicles which the EPA hopes car buyers will consider. The survey explored which of the two proposed labels would be most understandable to the average American and which data were of most interest.

The vertical label went astray in four areas:
  • Emphasizing a letter grade
  • De-emphasizing miles per gallon (mpg)
  • Presenting data without any brief explanation
  • Emphasizing savings over time rather than cost of operation
"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."

The EPA redesigned the labels to inform consumers about operating cost and environmental impact and to reflect the increasing availability of alternative fuel vehicles. Siegel+Gale's survey concluded that the horizontal label was viewed as more understandable than the vertical one. In fact, over half (59 percent) of those surveyed said they would not want to purchase a vehicle without it-an indication of support for the horizontal approach over the vertical approach.

Key survey findings from respondents:
On a scale of 0 to 100, consumers rated mpg an 86 in overall importance, while greenhouse gas emissions received a lower score of 68.
The cost-per-year to run a vehicle ranked as the second most important consideration behind mpg.
When asked about the letter grade approach, specifically, some 38 percent of respondents indicated they would buy a car graded less than C.
Twenty-five percent of Democrats think the environment is a major factor in purchasing a vehicle versus 12 percent of Republicans and 17 percent of independents.

Siegel+Gale suggests the EPA can improve the consumer-preferred horizontal design by:
  • Moving extraneous data to a website (e.g., gallon gas equivalent per 100 miles, entire range of mpg for all vehicles, greenhouse gases and other air pollutants)
  • Removing all non-essential logos and icons to reduce visual clutter.
  • Using mpg as a primary data point and explain that, for a hybrid electric/gasoline vehicle, the first 50 miles are run by battery.
  • Emphasizing operating cost rather than savings over time.
  • Providing a brief explanation of the purpose of the Smartphone bar code.
  • Giving more prominence to the benefits (i.e., "ability to calculate estimates personalized for your driving") of visiting the fueleconomy.gov website at the bottom of the label.
"The recommendations are simple: scrap the vertical label, lose the letter grade and emphasize the mpg and cost of owning the vehicle," adds Siegel. "If the EPA takes these steps, it may be successful in increasing the number of fuel-efficient vehicles on the road and communicating clearly with consumers."

About Simplicity Lab™

SimplicityLab is a proprietary quantitative research tool that uses online panels to evaluate a wide range of transactional communications on multiple dimensions, such as comprehension, clarity perception, navigation, intent to act and communication effectiveness. SimplicityLab utilizes a highly visual, Flash®-enabled interface that keeps respondents engaged, as well as a variety of customized research methods, including innovative click-testing, heat mapping and timed comprehension.

About Siegel+Gale

Siegel+Gale is committed to building world-class brands through simple, unexpectedly fresh strategies, stories and experiences. With Simple is Smart as its operating philosophy, Siegel+Gale delivers powerful services in brand development, identity design, simplification, research and analytics, and digital strategy.

Since its founding by branding and simplified communications pioneer Alan Siegel in 1969, Siegel+Gale has helped drive business results for brands such as Aetna, American Express, Bank of America, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid, China Youth Development Foundation, Dell, Dow Chemical Company, The Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, the Internal Revenue Service, The King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Microsoft, Motorola, Pfizer, SAP, Sony PlayStation, United States Mint, United States Securities and Exchange Commission, Yahoo! and the YMCA.

Siegel+Gale has offices in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, London, Hamburg, Dubai, Shanghai and Beijing and strategic partnerships around the world as a member of the Omnicom Group of companies

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