- The Washington Times - Friday, November 20, 2009

In an age of hybrid, fuel cell and electric cars, miles per gallon aren’t what they used to be. That’s because you can’t measure the energy cost of an alternative-fuel vehicle in gallons of gasoline.

The projected fuel economy of the new Chevy Volt electric car, for instance, is equivalent to 230 mpg.

But that doesn’t mean its fuel costs will be less than a quarter of those of the 2010 Toyota Prius, which is rated at 50 miles-per-gallon-equivalent (mpge).

The Volt, in fact, would be just 20 percent cheaper to drive than the Prius, according to estimates by auto-information site Edmunds.com. It is expected to go on sale next November.

With the Volt expected to retail for $32,500 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit) while the Prius starts at $22,000, that’s information even the greenest consumer needs to know in this economy, Jeremy Anwyl, chief executive officer of Edmunds.com, told reporters in Washington on Thursday.

Edmunds.com is suggesting that the Environmental Protection Agency establish fuel-cost ratings to help consumers compare the pocketbook-footprint of the cars they choose as well as the carbon footprint.

The agency on Sept. 15 sought public comment on establishing emissions and fuel economy standards for plug-in electric and hybrid cars.

Mr. Anwyl said Edmunds.com already has posted its fuel cost estimates for all 2010 models on its Web site, which the company says gets more than 14 million visitors a month, looking for comparative information to guide their car choices.

The company had a conference call with the agency Thursday afternoon, Mr. Anwyl said.

“We will review Edmunds’ comments, along with all of the stakeholder comments we are receiving on this issue,” an EPA spokeswoman said Thursday. She did not elaborate.

“A consumer could reasonably assume, based on the way that they have been using window stickers now going back to 1975, that the Chevy Volt is over four times more efficient to operate than the Toyota Prius. And [that] would actually be completely wrong,” Mr. Anwyl said.

“We need to create a cost number that focuses on monthly cost. From a consumer perspective, it’s about pricing comparability and we’re going to lose that.

“There’s another set of numbers we need to create for consumers that give them a sense of the carbon footprint of the vehicle. I just don’t think it’s the mileage number,” he said.

Mr. Anwyl said the EPA has responded to Edmunds.com’s proposal with interest, asking questions about how consumers make decisions using Internet comparison sites and the role of mileage ratings.

He said the EPA should no longer allow car manufacturers to advertise based on miles per gallon.

“If car companies are building cars with very high monthly cost from a fuel perspective, that’s the sort of information that needs to be out there,” he said.

The economy has complicated decisions for consumers who need to balance commitment to the environment with their personal budgets, Mr. Anwyl said. Interest in hybrid models among Edmunds.com visitors has diminished recently, he said.

“We’ve got a conflicting trend with a lot of consumers who are concerned about the environment and they’re certainly interested in alternative technologies. On the other hand, they’re feeling financially distressed and they certainly don’t want to pay more for a vehicle than they have to.

“I think they’re going to find a number of people who would pay [more for a car such as the Volt] at the early stage because you’ve got your early adopters - but in today’s marketplace, that’s a finite group of people,” Mr. Anwyl said.

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