They also want to set up high-technology roadside checks to identify badly polluting cars so that their owners can be forced to clean them up.
The campaign, which will be launched by ministers from the Departments of the Environment, Transport and Trade and Industry this week, will bring together the Government, car manufacturers, oil companies, motoring organisations and environmentalists, to produce practical suggestions on how motorists can be persuaded to cut pollution from their vehicles.
Chaired by the new environment and countryside minister, Robert Atkin, who replaced the scandal-hit Tim Yeo, it is modelled on a similar joint effort in the 1980s, which speeded the take-up of unleaded fuel by producing lists of which cars could run on it.
It has been prompted by growing alarm across Whitehall about the effects of exhaust fumes on health, highlighted by the Independent on Sunday last October and confirmed last week in a report by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
One in every seven British children now suffers from asthma, which is exacerbated by pollution from cars.
Senior officials stress that the participants in the campaign, to be called the Greener Motoring Forum, will decide its shape, but they propose a starring system for cars to help purchasers choose the models that do least harm.
Under the proposed star system, cars would be rated for their total impact on the environment. This would include the amount of pollution they emit, their ability to be recycled and the greenness of their manufacture (making each car consumes a fifth as much fuel as it will burn in its lifetime).
Environmentalists and motoring organisations say that there is very little to choose between existing models, apart from the fact that the smaller cars that do most miles to the gallon are the least damaging.
But they would support the proposal if present designs were given relatively low ratings, to encourage manufacturers to improve.
Mr Atkins is particularly keen to introduce new American technology that identifies polluting vehicles in a third of a second.
As vehicles drive through an infra-red beam, their number plates and details of their emissions flash up on a video screen, enabling offenders to be stopped by enforcement officers waiting further down the road.
Just 10 per cent of Britain's vehicles cause half of the country's exhaust pollution. The new technique would catch them so that their owners could be forced to clean them up, on pain of prosecution.
The Department of the Environment is pressing for it be be tried out urgently in pilot schemes, with strong support from the RAC and the National Society for Clean Air.
Government officials and the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders want to simplify information given to purchasers about the number of miles different cars will do to the gallon.
Friends of the Earth - which has successfully taken Saab, Peugeot and Esso to the Advertising Standards Authority for making misleading green claims - will press for more effective regulation of advertising and the publication of information on how much pollution each model emits.
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