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Wednesday, May 19, 2004
Blame the feds for fuel economy figures that don't match real world
Environmentalists press automaker to boost fuel economy
By Ann Job / Special to The Detroit News
Honda Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Co. are probably wishing they'd never put those fun fuel economy monitors in their gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles.
The displays are causing angst among some owners who aren't getting the miles-per-gallon performance posted on their window sticker.
Frustrated consumers are asking dealerships to "fix" their vehicles. They're writing to the automakers. And one, Pete Blackshaw of Cincinnati, is chronicling his dismay publicly in his own Internet blog. He says Honda is ignoring his claim that he's never gotten more than 33 mpg in his Civic Hybrid. The combined city/highway rating from the car's window sticker is 47.
Don't blame Honda. Blame consumers' driving habits and, more importantly, the federal government.
It's the government that for decades has required carmakers to publish fuel economy ratings derived not from real world driving, but from U.S. Environmental Protection Agency emission testing procedures.
The numbers — displayed prominently on every vehicle's window sticker — have always been a fraud of sorts, a quick-and-easy way to help car and truck buyers comparison shop on fuel economy.
But most buyers don't bother to read the small print that states, "Actual mileage will vary." And most drivers achieve only about 75 percent of the laboratory-generated figures.
Americans have largely overlooked the disparity as gasoline prices have moderated, or were at least tolerable.
But the elephant in the living room isn't so easy to ignore amid today's record fuel prices, heightened consumer interest in fuel efficiency and the rising number of hybrids on the road.
In a demonstration of just how idiotic the situation has become, Ford Motor Co. hopes to avoid the browbeating Honda and Toyota have endured by asking dealership sales staffers to supplement their pitch for the upcoming Escape Hybrid SUV with tips on how to drive to get the best mileage.
Forget for a moment whether hard-charging salespeople whose pay depends on making the sale will want to hassle buyers about their driving habits or lower expectations about their new vehicle.
Why should consumers have to put up with fuel economy labels that, right off the bat, they have to discount?
If this were the way the government handled all labeling, we'd be adjusting upward the calorie count printed on packaged foods and guesstimating the active ingredients in every medication.
The EPA finally is looking at changing its fuel economy formula, but it won't come quickly.
So would-be hybrid owners, beware: It'll take more than just a gasoline-electric powertrain to get the fuel economy you think you've been promised.
Ann Job is a California-based free-lance writer. She can be reached at mailto:email@example.com
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