It’s long been known that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) doesn’t actually test most of the cars before it assigns the “official”-ish fuel economy rating sticker, but recent difficulties are pushing the EPA to do better.
For the most part, the EPA may do real-world testing of only a few cars per year. For the rest of the fleet, the EPA depends on the automakers themselves to provide the numbers, which may, or may not, have been derived via actual real-world testing. In order to arrive at official fuel economy ratings, automakers, as well as the EPA, rely more on laboratory test results than actually test-driving the cars. They use a multitude of data points, such as vehicle weight, tire rolling resistance, coefficient of drag (Cd), engine size and power, among others, to arrive at an “ideal” fuel economy number.
Of course, there is room for error and a little bit of “padding,” which some automakers “padded” on the opposite side of caution, leading to two important results. First, people saw fuel economy ratings one or two mpg (miles per gallon) higher than the nearest competitor, which boosted sales for the automaker. Second, once those drivers started driving around, they noted their fuel economy wasn’t anywhere near the official EPA rating. Ford Motor Company and Hyundai / Kia made such a mistake, which has cost them millions in class-action settlements.
Of course, the only real solution to this fuel economy “padding the calculations” problem is to actually test the vehicles. Put someone in the car and drive it around some kind of real-world route, just like regular consumers would, and let that number stand as an official, tested, fuel economy rating. The EPA is suggesting as much and, while some automakers already include real-world fuel economy testing, the EPA wants to mandate it, saying, “we are establishing a regulatory requirement for all automakers” according to Director Chris Grundler, of the EPA Office of Transportation and Air Quality. Are we on the verge of seeing real-life fuel economy ratings? I certainly hope so!
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