Trying to determine the most environmentally friendly autos is like comparing apples and oranges. Highly efficient internal combustion engines are difficult to measure against hybrids. Yet traditional car engines that get great mileage add to the picture of vehicles that are getting greener. Given their wide diversity, we present these 14 vehicles as a collection of very clean 2013 cars, rather than ranking them according to their greenness.
We looked at a number of sources to determine this year's greenest cars, from the Kelley Blue Book to automotive trade magazines to environmental organizations. These 14 cars came up again and again as vehicles that were excellent at either stretching fuel or reducing one's carbon footprint.
Some automakers have contributed more than others to greening our highways. Toyota made five of the environmentally friendly vehicles on this list. Honda made four, and Ford made three (if you count Lincoln as part of Ford). Other major automakers, including GM and Nissan, had only one vehicle make the list.
This is relatively new territory for automakers, so we can expect to see the list change considerably in the future, especially given the coming CAFÉ standards.
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With 51mpg in city driving and 48mpg on the highway, the Toyota Prius extends its run as one of the top green cars on the market. This hybrid starts at $24,200. (Source: Toyota)
I would agree that the question of the level of green of different alternatives can be complex. I'm not an expert in the area. But I do find the report "State of Charge; Electric Vehicles' Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings across the United States" by the Union of Concerned Scientist to provide a clear, thoughtful answer.
Their summary, in the chapter "Global Warming Emissions of Driving on Electricity" states, "The good news is that no matter where you live in the United States, electric vehicles charged on the power grid have lower global warming emissions than the average gasoline-based vehicle sold today. In some areas—where coal makes up a large percentage of the power plant mix—the most efficient gasoline-powered vehicles will actually deliver greater global warming benefits than EVs. In other areas of the country, however, where cleaner sources of electricity prevail, EVs are far and away the best choice."
To further quote from the report "Nearly half (45 percent) of Americans live in BEST regions—where an EV has lower global warming emissions than a 50 mpg gasoline-powered vehicle, topping even the best gasoline hybrids on the market. Charging an EV in the cleanest electricity regions, which include California, New York (excluding Long Island), the Pacific Northwest, and parts of Alaska, yields global warming emissions equivalent to a gasoline-powered vehicle achieving over 70 mpg."
Interesting you comment that your Volt (Li-Ion batteries) is an environmental improvement over the Prius (Ni-MH). The Prius rates poorly for environmental impact, due to the pollution caused by smelting the nickel for the batteries. The area around Sudbury, Ontario is an enviromental wasteland from decades of nickel manufacturing (not solely Prius batteries). The conclusion of one engineering article was that three Hummer H1's had lower enviromental impact than an early-generation Prius.
Same goes for CFL's...pollution from Chinese factories, shipping, etc. causes a net *increase* in mercury into the enviroment.
Of course, all human activity and invention has environmental impact...some tradeoffs depend on what's important in your region and personally. For example if the electricity for your EV comes from coal-fired plants it may lead to a different decision than if power content is mostly natural gas and nuclear.
I haven't done my homework on environmental impact of Li-Ion batteries over their whole lifecycle. I'm also interested in the same for LED's.
In considering Greenest cards, I would tend to focus on those with the greatest benefit to the environment. I've been driving a Chevrolet Volt for the past year. It is my only car. I am averaging 135 MPG. I bought the car because of it's Green impact. For me personally, the car has gone from being a mind boggling improvement compared to my former Prius, to simply the new norm. When I now read articles talking about a "Green" vehicle that gets 45 MPG, I feel like I'm reading an article about the latest innovations in typewriter ribbons, a year after I bought my first PC. Battery powered cars are now that good.
Driving in a large metropolitan area, its not so much "Big Size" or prestige – Its really about the rapid acceleration into fast moving traffic. I drive an 11 year old Infinity, (so -- not much prestige there ,,, ) and I've been Car Shopping for a about a year now. But I haven't found anything that gets off the line faster than my '02 G35. After driving 260+ HP for over 10 years, it's hard to settle for a 2.0 liter 4 banger, so prevalent in many new cars today. I need that performance to avoid getting rear-ended !!
Planned Obsolescence. A term learned in Marketing class masquerading as a recurring revenue model. It goes against the grain of so many fundamental engineering principles. I believe responsible engineers desire to make things that last. It's why so many times engineering and marketing clash in company meeting rooms. We are fundamentally different in the way we are wired.
"Tesla, for example, has ALL zero emission cars. On the other hand, they sell just a handful. Their impact on the environment is basically nil."
@Naperlou- I'm not opposed to electric and hybrid vehicles. But the "zero emissions" hype really frosts me since it's a big deception on the non-technical public. The electricity didn't materialize out of thin air...and the emissions to extract, process, and transport the coal, oil, or uranium to the power plant should be included too.
Every product requires environmental impacts to manufacture, operate, and dispose of. The impact of any car is far from nil...EV's only change the list of impacts from one type to another or shift the location of the pollution.
I saw a Leaf on the freeway with "Zero Emissions Vehicle" in bold letters on the side. Seems like a good "hobby lawsuit" for an attorney against Nissan for false advertising!
We as engineers need to help educate others to see the "holistic" perspective, so they can make well-informed choices in the showroom and in the voting booth.
@shehan-from my research Americans historically preferred larger cars for prestige. Bigger is considered better here. Cars were a luxury. You can still see it today in car commercials. In the US, the commercials focus on power, image and perception, showing envious neighbours or attractive mates. In Asia, commercials focus on the practicality of the car, showing how many friends, family members, etc can fit easily.
Mini has tapped into the American need for prestige with a smaller car. Mini drivers consider themselves part of a cool and exclusive club, similar to Mac users.
Science fiction author Isaac Asimov may have the best rules for effective brainstorming and creativity. His never-before-published essay, "On Creativity," recently made it to the Web pages of MIT Technology Review.
Much has been made over the potentially dangerous flammability of lithium-ion batteries after major companies like Boeing, Sony, and Tesla have grappled with well-publicized battery fires. Researchers at Stanford University may have come up with a solution to this problem with a smart sensor for lithium-ion batteries that provides a warning if the battery is about to overheat or catch fire.
In this new Design News feature, "How it Works," we’re starting off by examining the inner workings of the electronic cigarette. While e-cigarettes seemed like a gimmick just two or three years ago, they’re catching fire -- so to speak. Sales topped $1 billion last year and are set to hit $10 billion by 2017. Cigarette companies are fighting back by buying up e-cigarette manufacturers.
Advertised as the "Most Powerful Tablet Under $100," the Kindle Fire HD 6 was too tempting for the team at iFixit to pass up. Join us to find out if inexpensive means cheap, irreparable, or just down right economical. It's teardown time!
Focus on Fundamentals consists of 45-minute on-line classes that cover a host of technologies. You learn without leaving the comfort of your desk. All classes are taught by subject-matter experts and all are archived. So if you can't attend live, attend at your convenience.