Monday, March 5, 2007

2008 EPA Mileage Ratings Give New Reality To Perception

If perception is everything, then automakers are going to have a job to do explaining the new EPA mileage-rating stickers that will be displayed on 2008 model-year vehicles. Fuel economy is going to show lower numbers across the board.
The new ratings are meant to better reflect real-world results. Even vehicles that have not changed anything about their performance from the 2007 model-year will show lower mpg numbers on the new 2008 stickers. Under the new way of calculating fuel economy, mileage estimates will fall between two and four mpg on average.
This is definitely for the benefit of consumers. The new way the EPA measures miles per gallon will take into consideration factors such as higher average driving speeds and more pervasive use of air conditioning. Consumer-minded AAA hails the change for addressing a truth in advertising issue.
No doubt, a change was long overdue. The last time the EPA revised the measurement system was in 1984.
But with sales of light trucks and SUVs, in a bit of a funk right now, the timing of the change is certainly inconvenient for dealers. Considering that the sales slump (total retail sales in 2006 was down 8.5 percent in this segment) likely was triggered by concerns about the price of fuel, having buyers see even lower fuel economy figures might be troublesome.
It presents more of an immediate issue for manufacturers such as Ford who have some 2008-designated models already being shipped to their dealers.
General manager Paul Neary at Ashley Ford in New Bedford is expecting his first 2008 Escape any moment. It’s so close to delivery, it’s already showing in inventory. He printed out 2007 and 2008 window stickers for comparison.
Side by side, the 2007 and 2008 Ford Escape 4WD, 4 speed automatic with a 3.0 liter Duratec V6 will show 19 mpg city, 23 highway for the 2007 versus 17 city, 22 highway, for the 2008.
Thus the perception problem.
Even the very economical Escape hybrid shows the 2007 at 32 city, 29 highway versus the 2008 at 29 city, 27 highway (hybrids typically fair better in the city than on the highway).
Now, I know consumers are pretty sharp and will quickly figure all this out. The EPA is even assisting by including the old calculations on the sticker in smaller print on the earliest of the 2008 models.
But on face value, at least for this transitional year, there’s bound to be some apples and oranges comparison between 2007s and 2008s.
For the time being, Mr. Neary is not overly concerned. Gasoline prices have been lower and he still sees a demand for Ford trucks. But he’s got his eyes focused down the road, too.
“Will fuel economy be an issue? Absolutely, going forward,” he stated. “But at $2.15 per gallon, I don’t see it.”
Mr. Neary is more concerned about what he sees as the mis-perception many buyers have about the fuel economy of vehicles coming from American automakers.
Hopefully, the lower numbers on the new EPA stickers don’t simply reinforce that perception.

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