Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars (and one SUV) for 2009

prius Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars (and one SUV) for 2009

Toyota Prius tops Clean Fleet list with lowest GHG

People and fleets that use vehicles with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per mile are rewarded with making our future a little better and with their fuel costs being much lower. The following cars, wagons, and SUVs have the lowest greenhouse gas emissions per mile of any vehicles available for volume commercial sales in the United States in 2009. All can achieve freeway speed. In many cases, they also have the best fuel economy. All are now available and priced well below $40,000 per vehicle, with some below $20,000.

From California to Capitol Hill to Copenhagen, plans and incentives are being created for a cap-and-trade of emissions. Passenger vehicles can get up to a $7,500 per vehicle tax break for being zero emission. The rewards for buying and selling low emission vehicles will increase. The incentives will be paid for, in part, by higher costs for gas guzzlers.

Reduced greenhouse gas emissions are becoming a priority with fleet managers and millions of conscientious consumers. These Clean Fleet Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Passenger Vehicles are listed from lowest to highest in carbon footprint.

  1. Toyota Prius
  2. Honda Civic Hybrid
  3. Honda Insight
  4. Ford Fusion Hybrid
  5. smart fortwo
  6. Nissan Altima Hybrid
  7. Honda Civic CNG
  8. Toyota Camry Hybrid
  9. Ford Escape Hybrid
  10. Mini Cooper and Clubman

This list was developed by first searching the U.S. EPA and DOE’s valuable fueleconomy.gov, with its extensive search capabilities. The EPA combined miles per gallon rating is based on 45% highway and 55% city driving. The carbon footprint is carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) based on 15,000 miles of driving, using the GREET 1.7 model.

The Toyota Prius continues to lead the four-door sedan field in fuel economy and lowest lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions. This perennial favorite midsize is lowest on the list with 3.7 tons of carbon dioxide equivalent for the EPA annual driving cycle; combined fuel economy is 50 mpg. Yes, 3.7 tons of CO2e is a lot; but many cars, light trucks, and SUVs create three times that emission. This year, Toyota is also putting 500 plug-in hybrid Priuses into fleet tests, so stay tuned for big news next year.

The Honda Civic Hybrid compact rates at 4.4 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle and a combined 42 mpg.

The new Honda Insight four-door sedan with an Ecological Drive Assist System is priced for thousands less than the Prius. The Insight will deliver 41 mpg combined, with annual emissions of about 4.5 tons of CO2e.

The Ford Fusion Hybrid midsized sedan has an EPA rating of 41 mpg in the city and 36 mpg on the highway. Clean Fleet Report makes an unofficial estimate that emissions will be 4.8 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle. The Fusion Hybrid and Mercury Milan Hybrid may travel up to 47 miles per hour in pure electric mode. The Advanced Intake Variable Cam Timing allows the Fusion and Milan hybrids to more seamlessly transition between gas and electric modes.

The smart fortwo is the new urban champion of fitting into city parking spaces that no other car can use, thus saving some owners over $20 daily in parking cost (or avoiding up to a $100 parking ticket). This little coupe gets a combined 36 mpg with a 5.1 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle.

The Nissan Altima Hybrid also delivers good mileage for a midsize, benefiting from Nissan’s continuously variable transmission technology. The EPA rating is 5.4 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle and a combined 34 mpg.

The Honda Civic CNG emits 5.4 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle and a combined 28 mpg equivalent. This vehicle is popular with fleets that also want to reduce their criteria pollutant emissions and have their own CNG fueling. Heavy CNG buying accelerated last year when oil prices soared.

Toyota Camry Hybrid delivers good mileage for a midsize with an automatic transmission. The EPA rating is 5.4 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle and a combined 34 mpg. Toyota has been showing a concept Camry CNG Hybrid which would lower CO2e to only 4.6 tons should Toyota decide to offer it to fleets.

The Ford Escape Hybrid is the only SUV to achieve one of the 10 lowest emissions of greenhouse gases. Comfortably holding five and lots of cargo this offers an appealing choice to the fuel economy and emission conscious individual or fleet. This SUV achieves a combined 32 mpg and emissions of 5.7 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle. With a common drive system, the Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Mazda Tribute Hybrid deliver the same carbon footprint and respectable mileage.

The Mini Cooper and Clubman have a loyal following that enjoy good gas mileage with a combined 32 mpg and emissions of 5.7 tons of CO2e for the EPA annual driving cycle. Definitely less cargo space the many on the list, but with a nice cost savings compared to the larger hybrids. BMW is leasing 500 of the new Mini E electric vehicle with freeway speed and a 150 mile range per charge. Should this be offered in larger quantity in 2010, the Mini E could lead on this list.

Fleets are also early adopters of vehicles with even less emissions including electric vehicles, hydrogen fuel cell, plug-in hybrid conversions, and diesel hybrid concept cars. Because these are not offered for commercial volume sale, or because they are priced out of reach, they are not part of this 2009 list.

Many users of EV charge their vehicles with solar power, producing zero greenhouse gas emissions from source-to-wheels. Non-freeway speed pioneers, such as Chrysler GEM, deserve recognition. Tesla may put 1,000 freeway speed EVs on the road this year. Although an average $100,000 price tag puts the Tesla Roadster out of reach for most of us, in a few years Tesla may be mass producing an affordable battery-electric sedan. Over the next three years, the above list will change as Nissan, Ford, BYD, and dozens of emerging EV and PHEV makers enter the affordable vehicle competition. More Clean Fleet Report EV Coverage.

Not considered in this Top 10 list are vehicles with the lowest smog-forming emissions, once the only factor considered by government regulators and buyers. In general, vehicles with low greenhouse gas emissions are low in criteria pollutants.

If you are planning to buy a passenger vehicle including an SUV, this list may be a good starting point. The focus is on vehicles with low CO2e emissions available for commercial sales in the United States, thereby excluding some of the small diesel wonders in Europe and electric vehicles selling in Asia.  Some people will need larger SUVs and trucks, while others will need more affordable choices.

The Toyota Yaris and Honda Fit were close runner-ups in making the Top 10. The list should be more exciting in 2010 as Toyota and GM prepare to battle for plug-in hybrid leadership and dozens of companies challenge Nissan’s determination to lead in battery-electric vehicles.

John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report and is the author of Save Gas, Save the Planet.

By . Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability. (c) Copyright John Addison. Permission to repost up to a 200 word summary if a link is included to the original article at Clean Fleet Report.

19 Responses to “Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars (and one SUV) for 2009”

  1. Marek K September 2nd, 2009, 12:21 am

    To use only gas milage to guage clean feet is a terrible way to do it. Manufacturing the batteries that go into hybrid cars consumes vast amount of energies that non-hybrid cars. Further, to reinforce the frame to hold these heavy batteries uses extra steel. To get a real clean footprint, you can generally do no better than getting the lightest car possible. While your list may be correct for post purchase efficiency, it gives a very skewed result of overall environmental impact.

  2. yannick cornet March 28th, 2010, 1:33 pm

    This is unfortunately misleading. One needs to consider the entire lifecycle, including manufacturing and disposing of the car. “it takes 113 million BTUs of energy to make a Toyota Prius. Because there are about 113,000 BTUs of energy in a gallon of gasoline, the Prius has consumed the equivalent of 1,000 gallons of gasoline before it reaches the showroom.” Concluding.. “Buy a Used Car. It’s Better Than a Hybrid” http://www.wired.com/autopia/2008/05/the-ultimate-pr/

  3. Yajaira Qian March 30th, 2010, 1:17 pm

    I’m really glad I found this post. I’ve been checking for information on solar energy for months.Looking forward to reading through more posts about energy.

  4. Peter Phonorkus March 30th, 2010, 4:48 pm

    If you want to discuss carbon footprint, you MUST consider manufacturing, lifespan and disposal. Yes, hybrid cars have a lower footprint during their lifespan but it does not offset manufacturing and disposal. Too many people have fallen victim to the hybrid=green marketing. It makes me sad that people won’t spend 5 minutes to research a hybrid’s true environmental impact.

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