WASHINGTON -- Better-informed consumers could do a lot to break the nation's addiction to oil, the Consumer Federation of America says. The group on Monday unveiled a rating system that it says will help consumers' pick more fuel-efficient vehicles.
The system rates "excellent" any vehicle that gets 40 mpg or better in combined highway and city driving, as determined by the EPA. One that gets 30 to 39 mpg is "good." Mileage of 20 to 29 mpg is called "fair." Anything lower is called "poor." The system makes no provision for vehicle size.
"It's a simple way to make an informed choice," says Jack Gillis, public affairs director of the federation. CFA is a nonprofit association of nearly 300 consumer organizations, which claim membership of 50 million people.
Mark Cooper, the federation's research director, conceded that not everyone's needs can be met by a Honda Insight, which is rated at 56 mpg, or a Toyota Prius, which is rated at 55 mpg.
But the federation's system will show consumers that fuel economy varies considerably within each vehicle class, Cooper and Gillis said.
Someone shopping for a mid-sized SUV, for example, can pick one that is rated fair or good instead of one that is rated poor. He or she would save as much as $1,700 a year in gasoline costs, the federation said.
The group also issued a list of driving and vehicle maintenance tips that it says could help a motorist reduce fuel consumption by more than 15 percent.
If consumers follow it, the rating system could have an impact on car and truck sales. Federation leaders said automakers likely would build more fuel-efficient vehicles if consumers begin buying more of them.
Gillis said a similar pattern occurred in the safety arena. Simple safety ratings caused people to shop for safer vehicles, and automakers responded by trying to build more cars and trucks that got better ratings, he said.
The federation's fuel-economy rating system responds to a challenge from the industry. Automakers have argued for years that they make many fuel-efficient models from which consumers could choose if they wanted.
Under the federation's system, just six 2006 models - 0.6 percent of the total available -- get excellent fuel economy. Thirty-six, or 3.3 percent, are rated as good. Fair vehicles number 611, or 56.6 percent. Another 426, or 39.5 percent, are considered poor, the federation said.
Gillis noted that the EPA's plan to revise its methods for estimating fuel economy will reduce the numbers of vehicles that are rated excellent or good. The changes, not complete, are to take effect in the 2008 model year.
You may e-mail Harry Stoffer at [email protected]