‘More information, more information, more information’. This kept coming up in a conversation I had at the mecca of EU consumer policy – the Consumer Summit – in late January.

As someone working on cars, my response to calls for ‘more information’ is to highlight how bad existing information is. Over the last years it seems everything has happened in car policy – from new CO2 emission targets, to new rules for checking cars before they go on sale – except giving better information to buyers.

Which is rather inconvenient when the car market is changing so profoundly. As it shifts away, albeit slowly, from fossil fuels, it’s easy to get lost in choosing between petrol, diesel, LPG, electric, hydrogen and whatever else the technology gods come up with. ‘Which one works for me?’ is the common sense question to ask.

Useful information is long overdue. And it’s not impossible. An improved EU car labelling scheme, and a new tool for European drivers to know their fuel consumption, called MILE21, can do just that.

Improve the unhelpful EU car label

Clear and comparable information helps us choose products with less impact on the environment and is also better for our wallets. ‘Information’ when buying a car ideally includes CO2 emissions, what we are likely to spend on fuel, and whether we might be affected by air pollution-related local driving bans.

This information should be provided by the EU car label. But it dates from 1999 and is of little value to would-be car buyers today. The reasons are diverse: there’s no standard format, and designs are misleading to the point that, in Germany, a Citroën C1 scores the same as a Porsche Cayenne. Which is like comparing a bulldozer and a forklift. Today’s market where people find info and make decisions online, and buy second-hand or electric vehicles isn’t considered either.

Consumer groups propose to make the label useful by ranking a car’s absolute CO2 emissions – and fuel consumption – on an A to G scale. Designwise it would resemble the energy label which we have all got used to when buying washing machines or microwaves.

Soon you can monitor your fuel consumption

A better EU car label is only part of the equation. Labels are based on official tests done before a new car model hits the road. Is the real-life fuel consumption of cars the same for everyone? In short, no, because driving styles differ.

Here comes MILE21: an EU-funded online tool developed by consumer groups Altroconsumo (Italy), DECO (Portugal), OCU (Spain) and Test Achats/Test Aankoop (Belgium) together with scientific organisations [1]. It will help drivers compare real-world fuel consumption values – and therefore CO2 emissions – of the main car models sold in the EU. Its innovative feature is that it will collect data from official fuel consumption figures, modelling and real-world data obtained from on-board fuel consumption meters.

MILE21 aims to be a reliable and solid source to monitor gaps between official and real-world fuel consumption. This is important as such gaps cause people to spend much more for fuel, and emit more CO2, than they might expect on the basis of the official information they receive. MILE21 will also advise people how to improve their driving style, helping them consume less fuel and to monitor the savings they make.

Earlier I mentioned that people mustn’t get lost in the shift from fossil fuels. MILE21 will also help electric car drivers, as it monitors energy consumption and advises people how to consume less.

More information is good. Useful information is better. And information that can be verified and improved by all of us is the best.

MILE21 will be accessible through the websites of participating consumer groups as of September.

Update September 2020: The MILE21 platform is now accessible via mile21.eu.

[1] The scientific partners of the project are the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki (Greece), Emisia SA (Greece), the International Council on Clean Transportation (Germany) and TNO (Netherlands).

The MILE21 project is co-funded by the LIFE Programme of the European Union: agreement number LIFE17 GIC/GR/000128.

Posted by Dimitri Vergne