Electric & Fuel Cell Trucks Highlighted at Show
The 2017 ACT Expo, held earlier this month (May 1-4, 2017) in Long Beach, California, has always had the promotion of advanced clean transportation (hence it’s title) as its main focus. In the past, that focus has meant natural gas as the main alternative to diesel or gasoline in medium and heavy-duty vehicles.
This year’s show saw more buzz about electric and fuel cell trucks than in the past as some major companies are entering the market and several smaller ones have products in development.
BYD Electric Trucks
Top of the list is the Chinese automotive manufacturer BYD, best known in the U.S. for being 10 percent owned by Warren Buffet. The company, which started life as a battery company, has seen some success in China selling a variety of electric and non-electric cars. It is staking its future on electric power, showing a fully electric Class 8 refuse truck chassis at ACT Expo. The company also showcased a 60-foot articulated battery-powered transit bus (that model complements the company’s 30-, 35- and 40-foot buys currently available). Finally, BYD also showed a Class 8 battery electric terminal tractor.
BYD’s lineup of electric trucks
BYD pitched its electric models as capable of functioning alongside diesel or CNG models while saving on operating costs.
Kenworth Tests Two
Kenworth to test fuel cell big rig
Another major U.S truck manufacturer, Kenworth, used ACT Expo to announce its plans to build and test two variations of zero or near-zero emission heavy-duty trucks for port use. One will feature a fuel cell power train from Ballard creating electricity for a fuel-rotor electric motor. The second prototype will use a Cummings Westport ISL G near-zero ISL G natural gas engine to generate electricity for an electric motor the powers the truck. Both of these trucks are expected to be in operation in the fourth quarter of 2017 in the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.
This comes on the heels of Toyota showing off a Class 8 truck powered by a scaled up version of the fuel cell pack from Toyota’s Mirai sedan. Another fuel cell big rig from US Hybrid was also showcased at the 2017 ACT Expo.
Workhorse Shows Two
The Workhorse W-15 aims to be the first mass-produced plug-in hybrid pickup
A startup company, Workhorse, also grabbed some headlines at ACT Expo. The busy company introduced a prototype plug-in hybrid pickup, along with a partnership with Ryder System on that pickup and also announced orders for separate electric delivery vans for UPS that are designed to work with drones for the final step of package delivery. Workhorse introduced the W-15 plug-in hybrid half-ton pickup and said that it had received more than 2,150 letters of intent to buy the vehicle, which will feature an 80-mile all-electric range. The company also announced it has delivered a hydrogen fuel cell-powered chassis for a DOE (Department of Energy) project.
UPS also showed off its first hydrogen fuel cell-powered Class 6 delivery vehicle, which will be deployed in Sacramento, Calif., to validate its design and performance. If that initial deployment is successful, additional trucks will be built.
At Clean Fleet Report we don’t believe there is any point in going in depth on the details on these prototype and future potential vehicles. The path to this point is littered with companies with stories similar to those above, all of which never reached a point of becoming a successful vehicle or company. The point is not whether technologies like fuel cells or battery power or plug-in technology can be applied in the heavy-duty truck segment, but whether these advanced technologies can be commercially viable. We’re not saying we have yet reached a tipping point in a shift to heavy-duty electric vehicles, but the movement and advances in that area reached a high water mark at the 2017 ACT Expo.
That said, we’ll be following these developments closely and will report on those vehicles and companies which have news, keeping in mind the bigger picture of both the overall market and how these new technologies might find a home there.
An Array of Choices Are Available
With environmental concerns and economic worries, many people have made the decision to buy green vehicles. Cars that are labeled “green” are either those that are environmentally friendly and provide less harm to the environment than similar internal combustion engine cars or those that use alternative fuels.
Purchasing and driving a green car provides a few benefits to both the driver and the environment. First of all, green cars leave a smaller carbon footprint on the environment by releasing fewer emissions. In addition to keeping the air cleaner, these vehicles also offer better gas efficiency, sometimes better than 40 miles per gallon, and a lower lifetime cost for the car. Although the initial purchase price may be higher for a green car, owners often receive government incentives, and the benefits of buying less gas make this car a more economical choice over time.
When choosing to purchase a green car, a new buyer must first evaluate his or her vehicle needs and budget to determine the best type of car. Next, a buyer should consider the vehicles with the highest green scores among cars and trucks that meet his or her requirements, taking into account fuel efficiency and emissions.
There are a few different categories of green vehicles that should be considered in any car purchase.
Clean Diesel Cars
2016 BMW 328d xDrive Sports Wagon–a diesel option
A combination of cleaner, ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, advanced engines and effective emissions control, results in clean diesel cars that achieve nearly zero emissions. These vehicles typically burn less fuel overall, which means that the cost per mile of driving a clean diesel vehicle is lower than that of typical cars.
In addition to less fuel burned and lower gas costs, clean diesel is also responsible for fewer greenhouse emissions per mile in comparison to normal gas-powered cars. This distinction is important because many modern diesel engines are currently under intense scrutiny by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other governing bodies after Volkswagen was found to have cheated federal emissions tests since 2009.
Additional “green” diesel options are renewable diesel fuel and biodiesel, which offer a renewable and clean-burning replacement fuel for traditional diesel. Most diesel engines can run on these bio-based diesel fuels with little modifications needed, although buyers should note that biodiesel cannot be used other than in low blends (5 to 20 percent) in most modern diesel vehicles. Renewable diesel, because it meets the same specification as petroleum diesel, can be run at higher blends.
Although clean diesel and bio-based diesel vehicles are more expensive than traditional gas-powered vehicles, their total cost of ownership is usually lower. They offer their owners the possibility to drive many highway miles thanks to their excellent gas mileage and torque.
Natural Gas Cars
Natural gas vehicles run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is mostly methane stored at high pressure. It is generally considered that they produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions than
The last CNG standing
most cars with traditional engines. However, buyers should note that since methane is a high GHG pollutant, this potentially negates the tailpipe emissions benefits of CNG when upstream emissions are considered.
While many consider natural gas vehicles to be greener and better for the environment than gasoline-powered vehicles, they face several obstacles that make them less popular. There are very few natural car options for consumers to choose. Natural gas is mostly used to power work trucks, while the only car model currently available is bi-fuel Chevy Impala. Much of this market stagnation is because fuel is difficult to find, and the vehicles do not always perform the same as those using traditional gasoline.
In addition, some drivers see using such natural gas as fuel as unethical due to the use of fracking to obtain the fuel. When hydraulic rigs pump water and chemicals down into an oil or gas well, high pressure is created that forms cracks in the rock protecting the underground oil or gas. Once those rocks are cracked open, the resources can be recovered more easily. The process itself has caused controversy because it has led to horizontal drilling rather than vertical, putting water sources and areas sitting on top of these horizontal lines at risk. Because of this unsafe practice, some eco-conscious consumers are opposed to using natural gas vehicles.
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicles (FCVs)
A car for the future–the Toyota Mirai
A type of vehicle that relies on a fuel cell system rather than a traditional engine is known as a fuel cell vehicle (FCV). These vehicles use a combination of hydrogen and oxygen to power an electric motor. Because FCV technology is still relatively new in its automotive applications, there are currently only a few vehicle models available for purchase, and they are only available in limited areas where a fueling infrastructure is available.
Like other electric vehicles, these have no smog or greenhouse gas tailpipe emissions; however, there may be pollutant emissions that come from the process of producing and transporting hydrogen fuel to the vehicle. It does not take long to fill a hydrogen vehicle, but the new technology has not yet resulted in many public hydrogen filling stations, making the use of this type of car difficult at this time.
Hybrid cars developed as a nice fuel combination for those who are interested in improving a vehicle’s environmental impact while also having the ease of a traditional car. Hybrids contain both a gas engine and an electric motor, and usually the vehicle’s system chooses which is used at which time to propel the car.
The poster child of hybrids–the Toyota Prius
Because of their ability to use electricity, hybrids are able to cut fuel consumption in comparison to many of their gasoline-only competitors. The use of electricity also means that pollution and emissions can be reduced.
Whereas hybrids were once seen as a cutting-edge vehicle option, purchasing a hybrid today is a relatively conservative choice. The longer time on the market has made hybrid cars reliable. They essentially work like a traditional car, so most mechanical issues have been resolved and many mechanics know how to repair them. There are no major lifestyle changes necessary in order to purchase or drive a hybrid vehicle.
The initial purchase price of a hybrid car can be more expensive than a gas-only vehicle because of the more sophisticated technology involved. While these cars can pay for themselves in time based on the number of miles the buyer drives, some may never fully recoup the purchase price. However, hybrids are an excellent choice for people who want a simple, well-established green car with few lifestyle changes.
A plug-in hybrid car usually uses both the gas and electric motor to turn its wheels, either at different times or together. The electric motor uses rechargeable batteries that can be plugged in to
The Chevy Volt is the best-known plug-in hybrid
recharge. This method of powering the vehicle allows the car to run for many miles efficiently and inexpensively until the batteries are run down. At that point, the driver has the option to refuel at a gas station if necessary to continue driving.
Many of the same issues that plague electric cars hinder the popularity of plug-in hybrids as well. Although the number of plug-in hybrid vehicles is constantly growing, there are currently only few of these vehicles available. This makes it difficult to shop for and purchase one, and tax incentives are at a lower rate than for pure electric cars. The initial purchase price of a plug-in hybrid is typically lower than that of an electric car because the battery pack is somewhat smaller. These are nice vehicles for car owners who are not ready for an electric car, but who are interested in a green alternative.
Nissan’s Leaf has led the way in affordable pure electrics
Electric cars run purely on electric motors, or more specifically on electricity stored in their rechargeable batteries or another energy storage option.
As with many green vehicles, there are some financial incentives for purchasing an electric car. Depending on how far the car is driven daily, it may only need to be plugged in and charged at home each night. In that case owners might need 240-volt charging equipment to keep the vehicle ready to drive daily. With fewer moving parts than gas cars, servicing an electric car is usually more affordable.
Buyers should keep in mind that electric cars are more expensive than gas-powered cars, and that there are not that many recharging stations available nationwide. However, their appeal will certainly increase over time as supportive infrastructure for electric cars increases and prices come down. At this time, electric vehicles are best suited for buyers who are committed to making an environmental difference and to dealing with the driving and charging limitations.
The choice of which green car to buy really comes down to the preferences and the lifestyle of the buyer. Deep-green buyers who want zero emissions should choose an electric car charged with solar electricity or some other type of low-carbon power source, such as hydroelectric or wind power. Light-green buyers may be more interested in gas-only vehicles that get high miles-per-gallon gas mileage using new technologies like advanced transmissions, improved aerodynamics and turbochargers.
Although many of these alternative energy cars began as niche products, interest in them has expanded quickly due to federal emissions regulations and policies, as well as an overall awareness of the need to protect the environment from damaging vehicle emissions. As more car buyers continue to turn to green choices, more environmentally friendly designs and productions will become necessary from the automakers.
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Road Test: 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel
First Drive: 2016 Toyota Mirai
Unveiled: 2016 Toyota Prius
Road Test: 2017 Chevrolet Volt
Road Test: 2016 Nissan Leaf
Two Fuels Power Chevrolet’s Full-Size sedan
“Alternative fuel” usually means electricity, biofuels like ethanol or renewable diesel or even (erroneously) gasoline-powered hybrid-electric vehicles. However, one plentiful, inexpensive and clean fuel is underutilized—compressed natural gas or CNG. Honda produced a Civic powered by CNG starting in 1998, but dropped it last year. So, if you are looking for this technology in a passenger car, the 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel is for you. Chevrolet produces the only sedan in North America to run on unleaded gasoline and compressed natural gas, continuing what Chevrolet says, “demonstrates their commitment and leadership in energy diversity.”
Natural gas is the cleanest burning of all fossil fuels on a lifecycle basis according to the U.S. Department of Energy, and it is abundant. With recent advances in hydraulic fracturing technologies—
more commonly known as fracking—and advances in capturing methane gas from landfills and other biogas sources, the natural gas supply is solid for decades to come according to industry estimates. Its cost per an equivalent gallon of gasoline (GGE) runs 30–40 percent less than gas or diesel, and a CNG-fueled internal combustion engine will have a longer service life and require less maintenance because natural gas burns so cleanly, producing almost no combustion by-products in the motor oil, spark plugs or injectors.
The 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel we were driving looks exactly like the gasoline powered Impala except for the federally mandated (for emergency responder’s safety) blue and white diamond-shaped CNG sticker on the trunk lid.
The front-wheel drive, six-speed automatic Impala Bi-Fuel is powered by a DOHC 3.6L V6 with variable valve timing. The horsepower and torque depend on which fuel is being used: gasoline puts out 260 hp and 247 lb-ft of torque while CNG delivers 230 hp and 218 lb-ft of torque. Without going into performance numbers, that 30 hp and 29 lb-ft of torque can make a big difference when it is time to get up and go. But in the case of the Impala Bi-fuel, the reduced CNG numbers were not an issue as the oompf under both fuels was more than adequate for all types of driving conditions. The Impala is available with two other gasoline-only engines, a 2.5L inline four-cylinder putting out 196 hp and 186 lb-ft of torque while the 3.6L V6 hits those numbers at 305 and 264.
Enough power from either fuel
Chevrolet says, that according to federal Environmental Protection Agency estimates, the 2016 Impala Bi-fuel has a natural gas range of 119 miles and a gasoline range of 368 miles for a total range of 487 miles. Chevrolet estimates the natural gas range to be about 150 miles of city driving and to hit 500 city miles combined. Interesting variables that usually do not come into play when refueling with gasoline or diesel is that the actual driving range can vary based upon ambient temperature and current pressure available at the CNG refueling station.
The Impala Bi-fuel primarily runs on CNG and, when the tank is depleted, it switches to gasoline. However, there is a button on the dash where either fuel can be selected and used as the driver chooses. Since a car is least efficient in city driving with multiple stops and starts, I opted for the less expensive CNG and then went to gasoline mode for highway driving.
Driving Impressions: On the Road
The Impala LT Bi-Fuel comes with 18-inch lightweight aluminum-alloy wheels, all-season tires, electric variable-effort power steering, power-assisted front disc and drum rear ABS brakes,
Big, but not dumb
MacPherson independent strut front and multi-link rear suspension with stabilizer bars at both ends. As expected of any car that weighs 4,175 lbs., the Impala Bi-fuel is smooth on the highway and pretty much obliterates all road irregularities, making long drives a pleasure. Keeping in mind the weight and size of the car, I was pleased that hard cornering was flat and confident without any feeling of insecurity. The Impala actually felt nimble around town. Don’t be fooled initially that the Impala’s size should lead to parking challenges as the rearview camera and rear parking assist sensors erased any preconceived challenges.
The fore-mentioned electric variable-effort power steering was accurate and not too light or dumbed-down to feel the road. I managed a few weight transfer corners through the twisties on a local mountain road, so all-in-all the Impala was a surprisingly good handling car—relatively speaking, of course.
Driving Impressions: Interior
Finding a comfortable position was easy with the perforated-leather power adjustable driver’s (and passenger) seat and the tilt and telescoping steering wheel. The large dash has sweeping lines with LED ambient lighting emitting a cool, soft blue color to offset the black interior. The 60/40 rear seat folds flat and can accommodate three adults with good head and legroom, however two passengers with the fold down armrest with cup holders is a more optimal seating arrangement. The folded-down rear seat does not pass-through to the trunk as the CNG tank is located between the cabin and the trunk. The CNG tank also takes storage space away from the trunk, which without the tank would be quite generous. This then raises the question of having a large car that can carry five adults but has reduced trunk space that cannot handle five passenger’s luggage.
Inside tech abounds
Standard equipment on the highly optioned 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-Fuel includes heated and ventilated eight-way power front seats, driver-side seat memory settings, dual-zone automatic climate control, center console armrest with storage, 120-volt power outlets, power door locks, exterior rearview mirrors and windows, leather wrapped steering wheel with audio, voice activation and cruise controls.
A part of the center stack, the six-speaker sound system delivered clear, crisp bass and treble tones for the AM/FM/CD with MP3/WMA playback, HD Radio, Apple CarPlay, USB ports and SiriusXM, that comes with three months complimentary service. The center point for all this is the eight-inch color touchscreen display that runs Chevrolet’s MyLink infotainment system and includes navigation, voice recognition and hands-free Bluetooth for telephone and audio streaming. It’s a good system, but we felt the touchscreen command reactions were a bit slow. Clean Fleet Report gives the infotainment system a passing grade since it featured the convenience and safety of on/off volume and channel selector knobs.
You also get OnStar and 4G LTE for Wi-Fi, (three-month, three-gigabyte data trial) that turns your car into a hotspot. A note regarding OnStar: a simple push of a button connects you with a
Two fuels-two gauges
friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable. This is one area where GM has been the industry leader and the program is well worth renewing after the introductory service plan expires.
Driving Impressions: Exterior
The look of the 2016 Impala is contemporary and attractive with a low stance and sculpted sides that suggests a vehicle in motion. Up front there are low-profile projector beam headlamps that sweep around the corners of a wide grille. Out back the short deck lid is framed by LED tail lamps and finished off by dual chrome exhaust tips.
The tank shrinks the trunk, but it’s safe
None of this comfort and styling is worth a thing if the car isn’t safe to drive. The 2016 Impala comes with 10 airbags, ABS with four-wheel disc brakes and electronic brake force distribution, hill start assist, forward collision and rear cross-traffic alerts, lane departure, side blind zone warning with lane change alert, electronic stability control and all-speed traction control.
In crash testing by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the 2015 Impala (which is identical to the 2016 Impala reviewed here) received five stars for overall crash protection while the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) awarded the Impala its top rating of “Good.”
The Fueling Process
The Impala Bi-Fuel will be sold and serviced by nearly all of the 3,200 Chevrolet dealers in the United States and Canada, and is available for commercial, fleet and consumers. Your Chevrolet dealer will provide a list of local CNG stations but you will be best served by going to websites such as these http://www.afdc.energy.gov/locator/stations/ and http://cleanenergyfuels.com/ or downloading this app http://www.cngnow.com/app/Pages/information.aspx for iPhone or Android. After logging-on you simply enter a zip code and local stations appear on a map.
Once at the station, which will almost always be a 24/7 unmanned operation, you will swipe a major credit card and then, if it is your first time fueling, watch a short instructional video on the
Finding fuel can change your route
pump. The video will give you a three-number code and then explains how to attach the hose end to the fitting on the car and the sequence to start fueling. It is a very simple process with a full tank taking only minutes to fill. After doing it once, you will be a seasoned pro.
A note about CNG fueling stations. Many of them are located in an industrial setting and will not be freeway-close. They can be buried among storage yards and transportation centers where you will be pulling-up alongside city buses and trash trucks. Until more consumer-oriented CNG vehicles are offered by manufacturers, the fueling locations will be more for local commercial traffic and not road warriors traveling the freeways.
For those in California, the Impala Bi-Fuel automatically qualifies for the coveted HOV sticker which allows driving in the carpool lane with just the driver.
Pricing and Warranties
The 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-Fuel has a MSRP of $40,510 with Clean Fleet Report’s coming in at $41,800. Prices do not include the $825 Destination Charge.
The 2016 Impala LT Bi-Fuel warranties include:
- Bumper-to-Bumper – Three-year/36,000-mile
- Powertrain – Five-year/100,000-mile
- Roadside Assistance – Two-year/25,000-mile
- Factory Scheduled Service – Two-year/24,000-mile
- Rust-through Perforation – Six-year/100,000-mile
Observations: 2016 Chevrolet Impala LT Bi-fuel
The 2016 Chevrolet Impala competes in the full-size class against such cars as the Chrysler 300C, Ford Taurus, Toyota Avalon, Dodge Charger, Hyundai Azera and the Kia Cadenza. All are known for spacious interiors, the ability to carry five adults and having large trunks. At least one of them even come as a 40-mpg hybrid. But only Chevrolet offers a full-size sedan with a CNG option.
The reason for a big sedan
Your driving style is what will determine if the Impala Bi-fuel makes sense over the Impala with the four- or six-cylinder gas-only engines, as they will cost anywhere from $5,000 to $10,000 less. A big factor is the cost of CNG, which currently is 30-40 percent less than unleaded gasoline, making your cost per mile driven very low. If you drive a lot of CNG miles, then the numbers might work in your favor.
So where do you fit in as a future Impala Bi-Fuel owner? If your lifestyle requires a large sedan to transport adults in style and comfort, as opposed to a SUV, CUV or even one of the many midsize cars that almost equal the full-size class cars in interior space, then the 2016 Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel just might be sitting in your garage real soon.
Whatever you end up buying, enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
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Clean Fleet Report is loaned free test vehicles from automakers to evaluate, typically for a week at a time. Our road tests are based on this one-week drive of a new vehicle, which does not address issues such as long-term reliability or total cost of ownership. In addition we are often invited to manufacturer events highlighting new vehicles or technology, during which we may be offered free transportation, lodging or meals. We do our best to present our unvarnished evaluations of vehicles and news irrespective of these inducements. Our focus is on vehicles that offer the best fuel economy in their class or are among the top mpg vehicles on the market. In addition, we aim to offer reviews and news on advanced technology and the alternative fuel vehicle market. We welcome any feedback from vehicle owners and are dedicated to providing a forum for alternative viewpoints. Please let us know your views at email@example.com.
Winners and Losers from a Half-Year of Ups and Downs
We’re in a whole new game for those looking for an alternative to gasoline-powered transportation. The first half of 2015 paints a complex picture of where the market is heading.
Hybrids, the high-mileage darlings of the 1990s, are proliferating in number of models, but sales of the segment overall are dropping. Pure electrics and plug-in hybrids are adding models and gaining market share, but working off of low numbers and not hitting a consistent mark. Diesels are outpacing the market in growth, but mainly on the strength of truck and SUV models.
The good news is the choices out there are more plentiful and better than ever—the Top 10 only skims the surface of the 95 models out there. The number of EV, plug-in hybrid, hybrid and clean
It’s all about the numbers
diesel models continues to grow. You could even argue that a high-mileage gas car may give you a better $/mile efficiency than some of the more exotic hardware and plenty of choices are available there as well. State and federal Incentives are still out there for many advanced technology models and automakers are not being shy about adding their own spiffs at the dealer level to keep moving models out of the showroom.
As usual, a tip of the hat to Jeff Cobb at hybridcars.com and Baum & Associates, who crunch the numbers each month.
Before we dive into some Top 10 lists, let’s look at the big picture. Was it a good year for our favorite vehicles? The overall auto market has done well, up 4.4 percent from a solid 2014 with sales clocking in at 8.49 million vehicles. Double that and you’re looking at an almost 17 million unit year, but second half sales don’t always work that way so we’ll need to see how things shake out. Overall, though, no one in the auto industry is complaining so far.
On the alternative side, the picture is not so smooth. Hybrids continue a slide that started last year, down 18 percent but still the volume leader among alternative technologies. Diesels flat in sales compared to last year, which also was a flat year for them (of course these sales numbers don’t include the popular heavy-duty pickups, a segment dominated by diesels). Pure electric cars are having a solid year as new models are added and some older ones drop off. Plug-in hybrids are off, but hopeful a couple refreshed models (Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius) will reinvigorate the segment. Here are the charts for January-June 2015:
Hybrids 46 models Sales=190,970 down 18% compared to 2014
Plug-in Hybrids 9 models Sales=18,509 down 36.5%
Battery Electrics 13 models Sales=35,435 up 26.3%
Diesels 27 models Sales=89,180 down 0.4%
The total tally for these four segments (throw in a couple hundred CNG Honda Civics if you’d like) is just under 335,000 or about four percent of the overall market. Fuel economy and reduced petroleum consumption appears to remain high on the agenda of a good-size group of consumers.
Our Top 10 for the year so far in sales has a familiar feel to it, but some of the players have shifted positions this time around. We’ve linked to our road tests of the vehicles where available.
Top 10 Best MPG Cars
- Toyota Prius – The Prius in its traditional form continues to lead the high-MPG world in sales, appearing to be on the way to another 100,000+ sales year, clocking in at 54,173 for the first half of the year.
- Ram 1500 EcoDiesel – A newcomer to these charts is half-ton Ram pickup, which has been a strong seller since its introduction. It ended the first half of the year with 29,658 units sold.
The smallest Prius can sneak into your heart
- Toyota Prius c – The “baby” Prius continues a strong performance as the quartet bearing the Prius brand (the original Prius liftback, the c, the V and the plug-in Prius) remain the most visible symbol of a fuel-economy focused automobile and have the numbers to back up their image. The c sold 18,921 vehicles in the first six months of the year.
- Toyota Camry Hybrid – The hybrid variation of the strong-selling Camry midsize sedan has always sold well and continues to hold a spot in the Top 10, selling 15,571 models during the first half of 2015.
- Toyota Prius V – Closing out four of the top five spots for Toyota is the wagon version of the Prius, reinforcing a concern for functionality along with a desire for fuel economy. The V sold 14,165 cars from January to June.
- Ford Fusion Hybrid – Ford has been charging hard into the fuel economy space and making a name for itself with EcoBoost engines, hybrids, plug-in hybrids and full electric cars. The Fusion Hybrid is the bestseller of the group, moving 12,683 units in the first half of the year.
- Tesla Model S – The big Tesla sedan continue to add U.S. sales while also expanding overseas. New variations on the full electric car, including an all-wheel drive model and some performance enhancements, appear to be keeping sales up. Tesla sold 11,900 Model S during this time frame.
- Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – The Korean automaker has moved up methodically in the rankings as the hybrid model of its strong-selling Sonata midsize sedan hit 11,838 in sales from January to June. A little further down the ranks the sister car to the Sonata, the Kia Optima Hybrid, has also been selling well.
- Volkswagen Passat TDI – VW’s midsize sedan has passed up its compact brother to take the lead in diesel segment sales. In spite of a sluggish year for VW sales and diesel as well, the Passat TDI clocked 11,746 models sold in the first half of the year.
- Volkswagen Jetta TDI – The traditional leader of the diesel segment dropped notch while still selling 11,692 units in this period. The switch of the Sportwagen model to the Golf brand may have contributed to knocking it out of its leadership position.
While we’ve called out the Top 10, we should also mention some models just bubbling under that deserve some attention, particularly as we look forward to a changing landscape where electrics and plug-in hybrids become more readily available.
Just missing the cut is the second best-selling pure electric, the Nissan Leaf, followed by a trio of hybrids—the Ford C-Max, Lexus CT200h and Honda Accord—then the best-selling plug-in hybrid,
Another newcomer to the list
the Chevy Volt, rounds out that group of five. In the next batch are the VW Golf TDI, which is surging in sales this year, the BMW i3 (available in both pure electric and range-extended electric versions) and the Ford Fusion Enegri, the plug-in version of Ford’s midsize sedan.
It would be hard to go wrong with any of the cars on this list, although you do have to factor in your individual life situation to make sure the technology fits your needs.
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Consumer Reports “Best of” List Shows Influence of Alternative Choices
Every year Consumer Reports tallies up the complaints and gripes from its millions of readers and adds in its own staff test conclusions with the result—a list of the 10 Best Cars covering a like number of categories. The list this year reflects the diversity of vehicles available on the market and has a surprising number of alternative fuel and transportation options available. We may not agree with all of the choices, but we have to admit it covers a lot of ground and like the variety (and like Subarus, which helps).
What do you think?
Their order doesn’t signify anything, other than they think the Tesla Model is the greatest thing since sliced bread. We’ve provided links to our own tests and stories on the featured vehicles.
- Tesla Model S – a full electric takes Consumer Reports top spot, the best of the best. This just reiterates what the magazine said when it first tested the Model S. They love it; they really love it. What’s not to like? For a mere $100,000 you can get a full electric luxury car with more than 250 miles of range and free superchargers sprouting all over the world. And now you can get one with all-wheel drive. It’s only money!
- Subaru Impreza – the first of three (!) Subarus on Consumer Reports is the compact all-wheel drive sedan or hatchback. The car features a continuously variable (CVT) transmission that
Badged to impress
helps deliver real-world fuel economy in the high 20s. Everything works and it’s a fun-to-drive small car. Models can deliver up to 37 mpg on the highway, which puts it in the Clean Fleet Report AWD 30 MPG Club.
- Subaru Legacy – The Legacy is the Impreza’s big brother. It comes with standard all-wheel drive (as do all Subarus except the BRZ, which was a joint project with Toyota), four- and six-cylinder engines and a couple different configurations. Maybe CR’s New England bias is showing with three AWDs on the top of the list (and a couple more to come). But the Legacy has moved up in appointments in recent models and also can deliver more than 30 mpg on the highway, which puts it in our AWD 30 MPG Club.
- Chevy Impala – an old nameplate brought back on a new vehicle that reflects some of the best that GM has to offer, and something special for the Clean Fleet Report crowd—a model that can run on compressed natural gas (CNG) as well as gasoline. The bi-fuel version is just out, doubling the number of CNG passenger cars on the market. If you’re near a public station and are looking for a full-size car that doesn’t use petroleum, this is your car. We found the gas version of the Impala pretty impressive, too. Check out our review here.
Luxury touches and diesel fuel economy
Audi A6 – Let’s get this out of the way first. We love the A6. Great midsize room, wonderful road handling from the base model on up. Touches of luxury, but with a German sense of practicality and usefulness. Add in a diesel engine in the TDI version and you’ve got an easy 38 mpg on the highway. We could get used to that.
- Toyota Prius – The granddaddy of the alternatives to the plain-old-gasoline engine sedan makes the list, as it has for years. Toyota’s hybrid drivetrain offers more than 50 miles per gallon in city driving and only slightly less on the highway. It is fairly spacious inside and has a hatchback that expands its carrying capacity. A no brainer for almost any list. Of course Prius also now comes in several variants, including the small “c,” larger “V” and a plug-in the bumps with fuel economy by offering a limited EV-only range.
- Buick Regal – The midsize Regal is carving out a pretty good reputation for Buick by offering a touch of luxury, a tight suspension and, for Clean Fleet Report readers, a mild hybrid that will deliver up to 36 mpg on the highway.
- Honda Odyssey – Honda’s minivan doesn’t have a hybrid (diesel and hybrid minivans seem to have failed to capture any product planners’ imagination), but it does offer the best-in-class fuel economy of 28 mpg on the highway. Of course, you can also add a load of seven people in the minivan making its functionality its real
Regal steers onto the best list
highlight. We concurred with CR on this one based on our own test.
- Subaru Forester – The third AWD Subaru on the list is the most station-wagon-like vehicle in the Subaru lineup. Like the other two, with the 2.5-liter four and a CVT, you can pull in more than 30 mpg on the highway (32 to be exact). And haul a lot more ski gear than either the Impreza or Legacy.
- Toyota Highlander – The Highlander compact SUV has established itself as one of the go-to car-based SUVs on the market. The hybrid version will push you up into the high 20s (27 city/28 highway) mpg while still taking along eight people.
So there you have yet another 10 Best Cars list. This one is skewed toward cars that this magazine thinks offer the best reliability while not falling short on performance. We can’t really fault any list that includes an electric, three hybrids and a diesel. No if Subaru get its Crosstrek XV hybrid on the list or finally bring over its diesel engine from Europe, we would have a list that Clean Fleet Report could truly embrace. In the interim, it’s worth cross-checking your personal choices with this list if you have any doubts about what the car will be like to live with in the long haul.
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Road Test: 2014 Toyota Prius
Road Test: 2014 Honda Odyssey
Road Test: 2014 Subaru Forester
Road Test: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
ACEE Organization Picks “Greenest” and “Meanest” Cars
Every year the environmental watchdogs at the ACEEE (American Council for an Energy Efficiency Economy) crunch numbers to come up with their “greenest” cars (along with a mirror image “meanest” list for those on the other end of the scale). As has happened on past lists, the results are a grab bag of different technologies, reflecting the varied criteria the group uses to rate cars. This year ACEEE tweaked their methodology a bit and we’ll discuss that at the end. But first, here’s the list (which ends up being more than 10 vehicles for a variety of reasons). We’ve added links to our own road tests and news stories on these vehicles.
- Smart Fortwo ED – Electric – Convertible and coupe versions
- Chevrolet Spark EV – Electric
- Fiat 500e – Electric
- Toyota Prius c – Hybrid – 1.5-liter gas engine with CVT
The smallest Prius can sneak into your heart
- Nissan Leaf – Electric
- Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid – Plug-in Hybrid – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
- Lexus CT 200h – Hybrid – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
- Honda Civic Hybrid – Hybrid – 1.5-liter gas engine with CVT
- Honda Civic Natural Gas – Natural Gas – 1.8-liter natural gas engine
- Mitsubishi Mirage Conventional – 1.2-liter gas engine with CVT
- Toyota Prius Hybrid – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
- Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid – Hybrid – 1.4-liter gas engine
- Smart Fortwo Conventional – 1.0-liter gas engine; convertible/coupe
That’s ACEEE’s list of the best, which were separated by only eight points on their 100-point scale (these models scored between 53 and 61). Note that the best any car could do on ACEEE’s tough evaluation would be a failing grade in most classes. I guess we can conclude they’re not impressed with how the choices in the automotive world stand up to their imaginary ideal.
Only small cars need apply?
The other conclusion we can make is that, in this group’s eyes and measurements, smaller is better. Half the cars on the list are subcompacts or smaller. Even though the Prius is rated as a midsize, that ranking comes mainly from its liftback configuration as the functional interior space for passengers is closer to a compact. This size car has gained popularity in recent years, but the most popular cars in the country remain midsize models.
To be fair, ACEEE also ranks the top finisher in each category of vehicles. That list of greener choices include:
The other clear conclusion is that electric is good and hybrids are a close second. Four of the top cars are electrics, one’s a plug-in hybrid and five are standard hybrids. Two conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engines and a natural gas model round out the list. One problem with the list is that several of the cars are not available nationwide since they’re cars aimed at meeting California’s zero emission mandate.
Making the list & checking it twice
So how does ACEEE come up with this list? Their goal is to analyze fuel economy, tailpipe pollution and greenhouse gases. In addition, the group looks at lifecycle impacts of the car, taking into consideration criteria pollutants, greenhouse gas emissions, looking at upstream emissions of the vehicle’s fuel and also manufacturing and disposal impacts. Four basic data points form the core of the ratings—tailpipe emissions, fuel economy, vehicle curb weight and battery mass and composition (for the hybrid and plug-in vehicles). Finally, they factor in an environmental damage index that tallies the gram-per-mile pollutant rate multiplied by a cents-per-gram of damage costs.
It’s a complicated formula and may only relate to the most environmentally conscious consumers. After all, what’s the difference of a point or two on a 100-point scale? The worst (meanest) vehicles on the scale are trucks, high-end luxury cars like the Rolls Royce and Lamborghini and big SUVs. A Ram 2500 4×4 with a V-8 engine came in with a score of 17 (remember the top score is was a 61, more than three times that). But trying hauling construction materials in a Smart ED. For that matter, try getting more than two people and a couple small suitcases in a Smart of any stripe.
We’ll watch to see if the F-150 keeps a step ahead
Now the Ford F-150 that ACEEE rates as the “greener” choice has a score of 36, which is twice the score of the Ram 2500, but again that’s comparing a half-ton 2WD pickup with a three-quarter-ton 4WD.
Lightweighting is a great move and the whole industry is pursuing it. Ford dropped 700 pounds from the F-150 for 2015 by moving to an aluminum body, lightweight steel and a smaller engine. Audi slimmed down the new Q7 SUV by a similar amount using comparable tools. But larger vehicles are almost always going to be heavier than smaller ones so to get the functionality of a full-size SUV to carry the soccer team, you’re going to give up points on the ACEEE scale. What this group gives us is another measure to look at when choosing a new, greener vehicle.
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