To Boost Clean Cars and Fight Global Warming, Let's See Ads That Reflect Mileage Reality

With 2015 cars rolling off assembly lines, Americans can expect a barrage of auto company advertising misleading them about fuel economy. As we wrote in USA Today, the ads tell consumers only part of the gas mileage story, sowing confusion about which cars are clean and which are not -- and leaving buyers at risk of driving off in vehicles that get worse mileage than they expected.

Advertising matters. With accurate and complete information, buyers can easily choose the cleaner cars that the Obama administration's mileage-and-emissions standards force automakers to build, cutting America's oil dependence and emissions, the key contributor to climate change.

The Federal Trade Commission, which regulates advertising claims, is reviewing rules that give automakers great leeway in how they advertise gas mileage. The companies can post highway mileage without having to disclose lower city driving figures. Tougher controls are overdue.

To protect consumers, the commission should require ads to disclose highway and city mileage. It should also require the companies to advertise the combined city-highway mileage.

Standing alone, the highway figure is largely irrelevant. Daily life behind the wheel is made up of the stops and starts of commuting and idling at red lights, dragging fuel economy well below the claimed highway rating.

If only highway gas mileage is provided in advertising, "consumers are going to think that's the mileage they are going to get," says Clarence Ditlow, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, with which our Safe Climate Campaign is affiliated.

A version of this commentary originally appeared in USA Today. To read the entire essay and see how much extra the buyers of one Chevy model might spend on gas, click here.