Top 10 Green Cars Named

Top 10 Green Cars Named

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.

  1. Smart Fortwo ED – Electric – Convertible and coupe versions
  2. Chevrolet Spark EV – Electric
  3. Fiat 500e – Electric
  4. Toyota Prius c – Hybrid – 1.5-liter gas engine with CVT

    Toyota,Prius c,mpg,

    The smallest Prius can sneak into your heart

  5. Nissan Leaf – Electric                
  6. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid – Plug-in Hybrid  – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
  7. Lexus CT 200h – Hybrid – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
  8. Honda Civic Hybrid – Hybrid – 1.5-liter gas engine with CVT
  9. Honda Civic Natural Gas – Natural Gas – 1.8-liter natural gas engine
  10. Mitsubishi Mirage Conventional – 1.2-liter gas engine with CVT
  11. Toyota Prius Hybrid – 1.8-liter gas engine with CVT
  12. Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid – Hybrid – 1.4-liter gas engine
  13. 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.

Ford,F-150,lightweighting,EcoBoost,aluminum

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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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:

  1. Smart ForTwo ED – pure electric – two-seat minicar
  2. Toyota Prius c – hybrid – subcompact
  3. Nissan Leaf – pure electric – compact
  4. Toyota Prius – hybrid

    toyota-prius-plug-in-price drop

    Toyotas dominate the Eco list

  5. Honda Civic Hybrid – hybrid – compact
  6. Lexus CT 200h – hybrid – compact
  7. Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid – plug-in hybrid –
  8. Mitsubishi Mirage – gasoline – compact
  9. Honda Civic Natural Gas – natural gas – compact
  10. 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.

ford,F-150,aluminum,lightweighting,EcoBoost

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

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