Just because a car says “hybrid” on its side panel, is it really any easier on the environment than its gas-burning counterparts? Green technology strives to lessen our impact on the environment, but how can you really be certain how much your car is impacting the planet? “Green” vehicles are becoming more accessible and more prevalent, but just how do they compare to other cars — and to each other?
One way that the federal government is assisting us in toeing the green line is with new standards and regulations. Beginning with model year 2013, vehicles we will see mandatory new EPA labels like the one above attached to window stickers. These are designed to give the consumer a clearer picture on just how green his new set of wheels is (or isn’t).
While the labels do provide some good insight on usage, they do not consider environmental impact during the production process but on a vehicle-to-vehicle scale the differences would be negligible – at this point anyway. One could make the argument that vehicles produced in countries with less stringent manufacturing regulations are not as green as those produced here in the States, and I am sure critics can sit here and make a great argument for plants run on electricity provided by cleaner energy sources. But since most a car’s environmental impact comes from its use — not it’s manufacture — the former is a better indication of eco-impact.
Consumers are still paying a premium in the showrooms on new technologies. Some relief, such as tax rebates, are available from the feds, although these incentives have tightened in recent years. For example, where the Toyota Prius hybrid once saw a tax rebate, no incentive is offered now that the model has achieved “mainstream” status. And the automaker has not knocked much off the sticker since, either.
So it’s important to weigh the benefits of emissions reduction, fuel economy improvement, and the amount time you expect to keep the vehicle against the price tag. Many early adopters of green cars, for example, were encouraged by rising gas prices. That is, the higher sticker price seemed a better value if fuel efficiency meant saving on gas. On the other hand, some hybrids come at a premium for only a marginal fuel efficiency — that is, an traditional car may actually get better mileage for a better price. In short, it pays to do your homework.
The Department of Energy’s list of greenest vehicles for 2012 models just came out, and while it features quite a few electric and quasi-electric powered vehicles, there are still plenty of “normal” eco-friendly vehicles for buyers to choose from.
A bit of a controversy still exists as to which vehicle is actually the greenest. According to the U.S. Dept. of Energy, the Nissan Leaf led the class of 2011, while GreenerCars.org had the Honda Civic GX CNG at the top of the green leader board tied with the Leaf.
GreenerCars has the Chevy Cruze Eco ahead of the Volt, while the DOE has that order reversed. Both sites’ rankings account for carbon footprint and score for energy impact. In my own recent testing of both vehicles, I gave the top nod to the Cruze Eco over the Volt since my lifestyle did not allow for constant recharging of the Volt –- those with charging stations or outlets at their beckon call would have reversed results.
Some vehicles have not even made the government or third-party lists due to their low sales volume or esoteric nature. These include the electric Tesla and Fisker models as well as the new smart fortwo electric drive and the Ford/Azure Dynamics Transit Connect Electric. In a perfect world with EVs being charged during the low-peak periods and using alternative energy sources such as wind or solar, this class vehicle would lead the list of greenest cars, and my list below of the 10 Greenest Vehicles reflects that.
Topping the list of greenest vehicles is the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (pictured at top), which has the highest MPGe (Miles Per Gallon equivalent) of 112 (126 city and 99 highway) and an energy impact score of 0.3 barrels of fuel per year. The MiEV is also the cheapest to operate at $0.90 every 25 miles.
The Nissan Leaf rolls in second with 99 combined MPGe (106 city and 92 highway) and costs $1.02 every 25 miles.
When operating on electric power only, the Chevy Volt would show up third on the list of greenest cars with a combined MPGe of 94 and energy-impact score of 0.4 barrels/year. With the gas motor operating fuel economy figures drop to 35 mpg city and 40 mpg highway.
The smart fortwo electric drive arrives third if you run the gas motor on your Volt – fourth, if not. It features a combined score of 87 MPGe and costs $1.17 every 25 miles. Issue for U.S. consumers is that only 250 are slated for that market.
By all counts the venerable Prius from Toyota ranks highest of vehicles relying on hybrid gasoline-electric propulsion technology. It is rated at 51 mpg city and 48 mpg highway (50 combined). Pretty close behind that is the new larger Prius V with 44 mpg city and 40 mpg highway (42 combined).
In a tie for fifth is the new Honda Civic Natural Gas (formerly the GX). It’s availability is being expanded to 35 states, up from only four, and has a higher green score than the Prius with fuel economy equivalent coming in at 24 mpg city and 36 mpg highway.
Next is the “this just in” 2012 Honda Insight Hybrid in a Tie with stablemate 2012 Honda Civic Hybrid, both offering 41 mpg city and 44 mpg highway. This is an improvement over the 2011 models that saw 40 mpg city and 43 mpg highway from both.
The Lexus CT200h rolls in next with 43 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. The Hybrid Synergy Drive technology used in Toyota/Lexus hybrid models benefits from city driving while the Integrate Motor Assist system used by Honda has better economy on the open road.
Ninth is a (very) last-minute entry in the Toyota Camry Hybrid which has been upgraded (like the Hondas) for 2012. Fuel economy has improved to 43 mpg city and 39 mpg highway with the new vehicle also seeing weight reductions and more efficient packaging.
As pickups are the best-selling vehicles in the U.S., I am going to finish this list with the greenest truck available today. As they make up a good number of vehicles on the road, they have to be taken into account in the overall picture of green driving. General Motors boasts the best numbers with its Chevy/GMC half-ton hybrid pickups offering 20 mpg city and 23 mpg highway.
By comparison I am including a couple of vehicles that do not score so well environmentally. Top honors — that is, the least green car — is the Bugatti Veyron supercar (8 mpg city), but with a seven-figure price tag, we don’t need to worry about them melting our polar icecaps anytime soon. And while Chevy may have the greenest truck, they also offer the meanest with the K2500 Suburban at 10 mpg city and 15 mpg highway.
More eco-friendly vehicles are on the way to the U.S. market and along with that will come additional infrastructure advancements set to accommodate an electric lifestyle. Many urban areas have already seen public charging stations popping up with more on the way.
The green movement is also pushing businesses and government entities to development plans that will accommodate EV-specific parking and charging areas, and a handful of vehicles on the way to market (including some already available) offer a $7,500 federal tax incentive along with them.
Ford has a couple of new EVs coming soon that include the Transit Connect Electric, developed in a partnership with Azure Dynamics, targeted at corporate consumers, as well as the Focus Electric, which will be marketed to consumers in a limited launch. Both vehicles will score very high on a green scale.
Tesla’s new Model S sedan is promised for next summer and will be available with a couple of range options with pricing a good bit less than its six-figure limited-production roadster model.
Do you really need to run out and spend what money you have left in your portfolio to become a member of the green revolution? Absolutely not. There are many things you can do right now to ease your dependency on fossil fuels while also clearing the air a bit. Following just some of our green driving tips and you’ll help out not only Mother Nature but your pocketbook as well.