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Jan 212009
 

By John DeFore
Green Right Now

Last summer, we reported on an effort by professors at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business to get the world to change the way it thinks about automotive fuel efficiency: Ranking cars in terms of miles per gallon, they explained, is much less helpful when it comes to making green choices than ranking the gallons required to drive a set number of miles.

At the time, professors Richard Larrick and Jack Soll were wishing automakers would start adding this rating to the vehicle stats on every car model they sell. Unsurprisingly, that hasn’t happened — so the scholars have taken matters into their own hands, developing an online tool set to help car shoppers do that work on their own.

The site offers three approaches to “gallons per mile” evaluation. Users can a) see a list of all new 2009 car models, ranked against each other, b) pick two, three, or four models and compare their efficiency side-by-side, or c) input a miles-per-gallon figure themselves. The last option might be the most useful, allowing owners to get a read on the cars they already drive (or might buy used), no matter how old they are.

While the logical basis for moving from MPG to GPM can be tricky to explain in a sentence or two — see this blog entitled “The Miles Per Gallon Illusion” for an in-depth but layman-friendly introduction — the researchers give their online calculator an easy hook by emphasizing the dollars involved in each efficiency leap. It may be hard to gauge how big a deal a certain amount of carbon emissions represents, they effectively say, but everybody can appreciate saving $1,200 in gas a year.

“This kind of calculator is exactly what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or Consumer Reports needs to adopt to help people think straight about fuel efficiency,” says Richard Larrick, who surely knows it would take an act of Congress (literally) to make automakers themselves post such data on window stickers.

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