By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
Environmental Protection Agency plans to change the way it allows
automakers to group similar vehicles into "families" for gas mileage
ratings, a top official told USA TODAY Thursday.
"We're going to
update general-labeling regulations," says Chris Grundler, director of
the EPA's Office of Transportation and Air Quality. The update will
cover "which vehicles need to be tested."
He also says the EPA is
dramatically increasing its vehicle testing, adding 30 more workers to
its examination program. That's about a 40% increase. At present,
automakers test their vehicles and come up with fuel-economy figures
based on EPA rules. EPA audits them on a spot-check basis. "I can't
underscore how important is it to EPA that we protect the integrity of
these (fuel economy estimate) labels," he says.
The decision to
seek a change in the regulations is an outgrowth of the relabelling of
the 2013 Ford C-Max. After an outcry, Ford said Thursday that it will
lower the gas mileage of the hybrid crossover to 43 miles per gallon in
combined city and highway driving, down from 47 mpg.
followed the rules in testing the C-Max and assigning a gas mileage
figure to it, says Grundler. Longstanding rules allow automakers to
group similar vehicles into categories based on similar engines,
transmissions and weight class. But the system isn't working as well now
with today's high-mileage hybrids and plug-ins.
this worked fine," he says. "What we're discovering now is that this the
first time we're seeing a family of hybrid vehicles" in which the
procedure isn't working as well.
Luckily, he says, only there are
only two groupings so far -- from Toyota and Ford. Toyota chose to test
each of its Prius models separately, avoiding the revision that faces
Ford. "The good news for the buying public is that this is an emerging
He says any rule change will be subject to discussion by
the agency, automakers and all other interested parties. He says he
thinks the fuel economy labels are accurate and that no further revision
of the rules is required.