Electric Cars Rule the Fuel Economy Race
What a difference a few years make. We first did this list of the Top 10 Low Carbon Footprint Cars in 2009 and had a mix of hybrids (including an SUV), a CNG model and even a straight gas-powered car, the Mini Cooper.
Fast forward to 2014 and the low-carbon stakes have been raised significantly. and this year if you don’t have significant electric drive you don’t make the list. Here’s a look back at our 2009 list; almost looks quaint now, doesn’t it. All good cars and all except for the Altima and Escape Hybrids still on the market (and it should be noted that both of those models were replaced by gas-only ones that get better fuel economy than the hybrids did).
- Toyota Prius
- Honda Civic Hybrid
- Honda Insight
- Ford Fusion Hybrid
- smart fortwo
- Nissan Altima Hybrid
- Honda Civic CNG
- Toyota Camry Hybrid
- Ford Escape Hybrid
- 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.
For this year’s update we went back to fueleconomy.gov and looked at the list of the Top 10 cars in fuel economy. It has some familiar names, but often with an electrified twist. Here’s the new list (and we expect some significant changes for 2015 as new models join the ranks).
- Chevy Spark EV
- Honda Fit EV
- Fiat 500e
- Nissan Leaf
- Mitsubishi i-MiEV
- Smartfortwo EV cabriolet
- Smart fortwo EV coupe
- Ford Focus EV
- Tesla Model S (60 kWh battery pack)
- Tesla Model S (85 kWh battery pack)
Based on EPA’s test cycle and its previously mentioned 45/55 highway/city driving split, these cars deliver 119 to 89 combined MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent), a measurement the EPA came up with to allow side-by-side comparisons with cars with gasoline engines.
Since two of the top 10 are essentially duplicates of others (the Smart and Tesla) I think it would be fun to look at the next two down the list. That’s were it gets interesting as you run out of pure electric cars and move into the plug-in hybrid world. The next couple are:
- Chevy Volt
- Toyota Prius Plug-in
- Ford Fusion Energi
- Ford C-Max Energi
I’m not stretching the list here – the bottom three are tied in combined fuel economy. And the ticket of entry for this combined Top 10 (which now covers 14 models) is 58 MPGe!
Also worth noting is that except for the pricey Tesla Model S, most of these models are relatively affordable, especially with special lease deals the automakers are offering. While they tend to be on the small side, a consequence of squeezing the minimum battery since that’s the vehicle’ biggest expense, it does include the fulls-zie Model S, midsize Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi SUV.
Of course, the down side is that many of them remain in limited availability with the majority of the all-electric models being steered to California where they can earn the manufacturer the zero emission vehicle credits needed to continue to sell cars in the largest market in the U.S.
And bubbling under this list are hybrids, diesels and advanced gasoline vehicles getting better fuel economy than ever before. Thankfully for all of us – and for our planet – driving with a lighter carbon footprint is getting easier every day.