WASHINGTON -- Automakers face a big challenge explaining to consumers that their vehicles haven't suddenly become less fuel-efficient. Rather, the federal government's method of estimating fuel economy has changed, starting with 2008 models.
A new twist may make the explanation somewhat easier.
The government Web site that lists estimates of fuel economy has a new section telling what the estimates would have been for older models if the new method of calculating had been in effect.
The Web site is fueleconomy.gov. Recalculations for past model years can be found by clicking on "Compare Old and New MPG Ratings."
Now you can see that your 2006 Ford Focus with a 2-liter engine and automatic transmission would have been rated at 22 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway, instead of the 26 and 32 mph that were on the sticker. That's a drop of nearly 11 percent.
The recalculation should make more valid any head-to-head comparison with any 2008 model.
The EPA adopted the new method in December after hearing complaints that fuel economy estimates have been high. The new estimates are meant to more accurately reflect such driving factors as higher speeds, harder acceleration and greater use of accessories such as air conditioning.
Hybrids were expected to see the biggest drops in estimates, perhaps by as much as 30 percent.
Automakers think motorists can meet or beat the estimates by changing driving habits. They offer tips at mileagewillvary.com, says Charles Territo, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
Territo calls the recalculations for older models "another tool for consumers to use."