Under a newproposed today, and currently up for public comment, electric vehicles will get an A+, plug-in hybrids score an A, and hybrids, which the EPA now considers a conventional technology, could rate as high as an A-. High performance vehicles would get the lowest grade allowed, a D. No vehicles will get a failing grade because all cars for sale in the United States meet the minimum federal standard for emissions.
Where a vehicle falls on that spectrum will depend on how many gallons it takes to drive 100 miles, its fuel economy, how much CO2 the vehicle emits at the tailpipe (which does not include smog causing particles), and its estimated fuel cost for the year. Essentially, better fuel economy equates to a higher grade.
The proposed vehicle grades do not take into account vehicle class, so although a Ford Escape Hybrid is rated at a combined 32 mpg, can tow 1,000 pounds, and goes almost 500 miles on a tank of gas, it gets a lower grade than the Nissan Leaf, which can only go 100 miles on a charge.
But this doesn't mean that consumers will be shamed into buying anything other than a car with a cord attached to it. If the new scale were applied to all new vehicles on the market today, the median grade would be a B-, with half the vehicles above and half below that mark.
To put it in perspective, a Volkswagen Golf would fetch a B, while the Chevrolet Corvette, with its 6.2-liter engine that achieves 16 MPG in the city and 26 on the highway, would get a C. It would take a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti hauling around a 540-hp engine that burns fuel at a rate of 9 mpg in the city and 16 on the highway to scrape the bottom of the oil barrel with a D.
Of course, electrically driven cars like the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt are expected to earn an A. Neither the Leaf nor the Volt have yet been rated by the EPA, but the new label will include energy use expressed in terms of kilowatt-hours per 100 miles.
So EVs and PHEV will be the nerds on the automotive schoolyard, but SUVs are not automatic dunces. EPA's Cathy Milbourn expects that each class will have vehicles that span the entire grade range.
But the final version is still up for debate. The DOT and EPA are providing a 60-day public comment period and are seeking feedback from consumers on its website.