Small but top of the list
Small Cars Lead List of Greenest Automobiles.
Maybe it’s the time of year. We’ve got Olympics competition and all of the medals and ranking of athletes and countries that goes with that. We’ve got the Academy Awards and all of those statuettes. So it makes sense that this is the awards season for automobiles as well. Magazines hand out their “Best of” trophies and multitudinous “Top 10” lists. We’ve been guilty of that as well.
So, recognizing that the value of a Top 10 list may be in direct proportion to its focus, we’d like to present the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy’s Top 10 Greenest Cars and throw in some explanation and commentary. Let’s start with the list:
- Smart ForTwo ED – pure electric – two-seat minicar
- Toyota Prius c – hybrid – subcompact
- Nissan Leaf – pure electric – compact
- Toyota Prius – hybrid
Toyotas dominate the Eco list
- Honda Civic Hybrid – hybrid – compact
- Lexus CT 200h – hybrid – compact
- Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid – plug-in hybrid –
- Mitsubishi Mirage – gasoline – compact
- Honda Civic Natural Gas – natural gas – compact
- Honda Insight – hybrid – compact
Bubbling just below the list were the conventional Smart ForTwo and the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. Our colleague Jim Motavelli of Plugincars.com did some digging into the criteria used to rank the “greenness” of the cars. He found that the weight of a vehicle was a big factor in the non-profit group’s “complex” formula along with manufacturing-related emissions. The ACEEE’s summary of their methodology is explained this way:
“We analyze automakers’ test results for fuel economy and emissions as reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the California Air Resources Board, along with other specifications reported by automakers. We estimate pollution from vehicle manufacturing, from the production and distribution of fuel and from vehicle tailpipes. We count air pollution, such as fine particles, nitrogen oxides, hydrocarbons and other pollutants according to the health problems caused by each pollutant. We then factor in greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide) and combine the emissions estimates into a Green Score that runs on a scale from 0 to 100. The top vehicle this year scores a 59, the average is 37 and the worst gas-guzzlers score around 17.”
As you can see by the scores, it’s a tough test and no one does that well. ACEEE is 30-plus-year-old nonprofit organization that is very serious about promoting energy efficiency. But I see as the subtext of the ACEEE’s approach a negative view of the private automobile. What kind of ranking has the best contestants scoring 60 percent? The curve with these guys starts low and goes down from there. Cars are bad, but some are worse than others.
Eco trucks should also be on the list
Our approach at Clean Fleet Report is a little more accommodating. We believe people need a variety of different vehicles for different uses and different situations. Yes, vehicles have negative environmental impacts, but so do most other activities. We should be aware of them and do our best to minimize or mitigate them, but activity cannot stop because of a heavy vehicle or fuel economy that doesn’t reach Prius levels. We know that full-size pickup trucks are unlikely to ever reach Prius-level MPG; that’s basic physics. They can get better and we’re reporting on that regularly because you should be able to choose the best vehicle for the job.
Not that ACEEE doesn’t also make a nod toward the different uses of vehicles, breaking out the best vehicles by class in their list, but I’m afraid being told the best vehicle in a class scored a 35 out of a possible 100 is not exactly a ringing endorsement – nor does it make anyone who values these ratings a likely buyer.
For my money, I think you need to do what we do here at Clean Fleet Report, evaluate vehicles in the real world and show their capabilities and deficiencies, with a heavy weight given to environmentally positive attributes. But putting a two-seat, 8-foot-long Smart on the same list as a full-size half-ton pickup doesn’t give the reader very valuable information.
Photos by Michael Coates and the manufacturers
Posted Feb. 23, 2014
Related article you might enjoy:
Pickups Pick Up MPG
My Top 10 Cars & Trucks for 2014
Top 10 Fuel Economy Cars for 2014
2013 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid-The Best Buy
“Hybrid” has become a magic word that’s synonymous with fuel economy for many car buyers, thanks mainly to the Toyota Prius. The common assumption is that the hybrid version of a car will deliver great fuel economy–or at least better mpg than a comparable gas version, resulting in a more economical vehicle to own. While the fuel economy part of that line of thinking is correct, as you probably know, the total cost of owning a vehicle is much more than the cost of the fuel you put in it. In fact, according to some analysts, the fuel portion of vehicle ownership is only about one-fourth to one-fifth of the cost of owning a vehicle. It’s a higher percentage for non-hybrid models (27 percent compared to 20 percent for hybrids on average) according to the Michigan-based automotive analyst organization, Vincentric.
That company looked at 36 hybrid models from 2012 and 2013 (and 12 trim levels within those models) and their conventional counterparts and found that when you look beyond fuel economy to the initial cost of the vehicle and expected depreciation, not all hybrids delivered a lower cost of ownership. They found the incremental cost of a hybrid car or truck to be on average $5,285 more than a conventional model. The good news is that cost differential has gone down by more than $3,000 compared to Vincentric’s similar comparison last year. Hybrids make up some of that cost differential by having better residual values (the value of a car at the end of a lease or ownership, in this case after five years) and of course deliver great savings in fuel costs. But overall, hybrids, again on average, during a five-year, 100,000 life will cost $1,582 more than a non-hybrid model.
Cost of Ownership Lower For Some, But Not All
In spite of those discouraging numbers, hybrids continue to increase their popularity and Vincentric found that among the 36 models, some did deliver better total cost of ownership than conventional models. Some did not,
2012 Ford Fusion-Better Buy than the 2013?
including the Honda Civic Hybrid, Toyota Prius Liftback (the best-selling hybrid) and some models of the popular Ford Fusion Hybrid.
Vincentric made the comparison based on heavy use, typical of commercial fleets, assuming 20,000 annual miles drive over five years. As well, they took into account depreciation, financing, fees and taxes, fuel, insurance, maintenance and repairs.
What you will notice in this compilation is that some of the more expensive luxury hybrids ended up delivering better value because of the significance of the fuel savings as well as higher residual value. Of note is how some of the most popular hybrid models fared–the three Prius models (c, Liftback, V). The problem with these three is there are no exact comparable models, so Vincentric compared the Toyota c to the Toyota Yaris (on which it is based), the Liftback to a Corolla and the V to a Matrix. In order, after five years, the c cost $624 less than the Yaris while the Liftback cost $1,823 more than the Corolla and the V did the best of the three, coming in at $1,707 less than the Matrix.
So, here are 10 models that Vincentric said will deliver the best return after five years. These are the hybrids that actually will save you money in the long run.
Top 10 (*good comparison car, i.e., a non-hybrid version of the same model)
*2012 Lincoln MKZ Hybrid (which is offered at the same price as conventional MKZ)
*2012 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Hybrid S400HV
*2013 Porsche Panamera Hybrid S
2013 Lexus HS 250h (now out of production)
*2013 Toyota Avalon Hybrid XLE Premium
*2013 Lexus ES 300h
*2012 Ford Fusion Hybrid (not as good in 2013)
2013 Honda Insight
*2013 Toyota Highlander Hybrid
2012 Toyota Prius V
The range of savings among the Top 10 is fairly large, from $6,402 for the Lincoln MKZ to $1,707 for the Prius V. Spread out over five years, the Prius V savings equal a little more than $340 a year, or a little less than a $1 a day. The glass half full version of that is: You’re saving money every day. That’s what hybrids have promised and many deliver. The promise is even more will deliver better savings in the future as the incremental cost of hybrid systems continue to drop due to improvements in technology and increased production.
For more articles on this subject, check out:
The Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars in May 2013
Microhybrids Are Big MPG Boosters, Report Says
The Top 10 2014/2013 AWD & 4WD SUVs/Crossovers With the Best MPG