NHTSA Wants Idiot-Proof Labels for Alternative Fuel Cars

Luke Vandezande
by Luke Vandezande

The National Highway Traffic Administration proposed a new rule today that would force auto makers to place prominent plain language badges to distinguish their alternative fuel vehicles.

Exterior badges, fuel filler compartment labels and a description of the car’s capability for alternative fuels – like diesel – in the owner’s manual are all part of the proposed change. NHTSA estimates that it could cost automakers over $13 million per model year and is calling for badges in natural language that specify which alternative fuel the car can run on. The badges will be required to be positioned on the vehicle’s rear either to the right of or directly below the vehicle name.

Diesel passenger vehicles are gaining traction in the U.S. where gasoline is traditionally the fuel of choice. Volkswagen has offered small diesel cars for decades and other other manufacturers are following the German brand’s lead. VW still sells the most by far, but Chevrolet began marketing its Cruze Clean Turbo Diesel sedan for the 2014 model year as a direct competitor to the Jetta TDI.

Both vehicles would be affected by the proposed law because neither feature the sort of “plain language” badges NHTSA describes. Volkswagen has already cultivated recognition for its extensive line of diesel vehicles. Customers can choose a TDI powetrain in most VW vehicles. The only North American products that don’t offer a diesel are the Tiguan small crossover, CC sedan and Eos hardtop convertible.

Chevrolet’s diesel portfolio is much more modest with the Cruze as the only option. If the proposed law comes into effect, it could serve to raise Chevrolet’s profile as an option for diesel buyers. “Anything that’s in plain language always helps,” Chevrolet spokeswoman Annalisa Bluhm said in a telephone interview. “[Volkswagen has] been in the market for so much longer. In diesel circles, we’re gaining momentum. It’s going to take some time.”

The Cruze can also run on B20 biodiesel. While the fuel appeals to a niche group, it’s a capability that others don’t offer and that the new legislation could highlight, Bluhm said.

Some companies already heavily brand their alternative fuel vehicles, but the specific proposed requirements would mean every automaker making some sort of change to their current designs. NHTSA says it expects the benefits would outweigh the costs, even if it leads to a “modest” increase in consumers purchasing alternative fuel vehicles.

In addition to requiring the badges, NHTSA says it will develop a consumer information campaign aimed at explaining the fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions benefits associated with alternative fuel vehicles. The campaign would also serve to inform consumers of where stations that offer alternative fuels are located.

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Luke Vandezande
Luke Vandezande

Luke is an energetic automotive journalist who spends his time covering industry news and crawling the internet for the latest breaking story. When he isn't in the office, Luke can be found obsessively browsing used car listings, drinking scotch at his favorite bar and dreaming of what to drive next, though the list grows a lot faster than his bank account. He's always on <A title="@lukevandezande on Twitter" href="http://twitter.com/lukevandezande">Twitter</A> looking for a good car conversation. Find Luke on <A title="@lukevandezande on Twitter" href="http://twitter.com/lukevandezande">Twitter</A> and <A title="Luke on Google+" href="http://plus.google.com/112531385961538774338?rel=author">Google+</A>.

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