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12 Greenest Cars of 2010: Do You Consider the Environment?

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The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently released an updated list of the twelve greenest cars of 2010. The council rates each car with a score, with higher scores going to those cars produce less pollution and are more fuel efficient, resulting in lower energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.

Here are the top twelve greenest cars of 2010.

  1. Honda Civic GX automatic transmission, compressed natural gas
  2. Toyota Prius automatic transmission
  3. Honda Civic Hybrid automatic transmission
  4. Smart Fortwo Convertible/Coupe manual transmission
  5. Honda Insight manual transmission
  6. Ford Fusion Hybrid / Mercury Milan Hybrid automatic transmission
  7. Toyota Yaris manual transmission
  8. Nissan Altima Hybrid automatic transmission
  9. Mini Cooper manual transmission
  10. Chevrolet Cobalt XFE / Pontiac G5 XFE manual transmission
  11. Hyundai Accent Blue manual transmission
  12. Honda Fit automatic transmission

When shopping for a car, do you consider your effect to the environment? Most personal finance advice will guide someone to the best car for the available money or the car that is the least expensive to own. New, cleaner technology is often more expensive. Is being green a “luxury?”

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, January 19, 2010
Photo credit: Daquella manera

Updated February 10, 2011 and originally published January 25, 2010. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar A. Mouse

Unfortunately, these lists often do not consider a wider spectrum of environmental impact other than emissions & fuel efficiency. Hybrid vehicles likely rank among the most environmentally destructive of all new vehicles on the road, due to the added resources needed for battery systems. To conjecture; as I currently lack of the requisite proof & figures to state for certainty, the value added MPG for a hybrid, likely fails a cost projection between the differences in vehicle cost versus fuel expenses when compared against a traditional vehicle. Given these two conditions; one cannot consider a Hybrid as “Green” except in limited circumstances.

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avatar SimplyForties

That’s a tough question. I’d like to think I consider the environment (these green cars were not available when I bought my last one) but on some level, at some point, it really always will come down to price, especially when you’re talking about a big ticket item like a car. I know that when I buy my next car I will consider these models first but if I can’t afford them, I can’t afford them. I think a lot of what makes a car green is the way one uses it so hopefully, if I couldn’t afford a “green” car, I would drive mine in an environmentally responsible way.

I’m surprised to see that the Prius is #2 instead of #1.

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avatar Smithee ♦1,358 (Quarter)

In the most widely-cited study of the environmental impact of the Prius (which is what I drive), it’s compared to a Hummer, and in order to generate the numbers they did, “the average Hummer H1 is assumed to travel 379,000 miles and last for 35 years, while the average Prius is assumed to last only 109,000 miles over less than 12 years.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toyota_Prius#Lifetime_energy_usage)

That’s just bad science.

Personally, I love driving it if only because I’m stopping for gas far less often than I used to.

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avatar jason

So if you factor in the pirus going to the same 379000 it will be even worse. You will be now almost quadrupling your fuel use and exuast emissions and you will need at least one new battery set which is the biggest polution producer of the car. So those bad facts actully make the pirus look even better then they really are. I work for a transit agency as a mechanic that has Hybrids and they are a joke for helping the eviroment. There is so much nasty stuff going into those batteries, and very little inprovement in fuel economy. They also cost 300k more per bus and we only get 1mpg better! Its all a politcal ploy to make the polititions look like they care.

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avatar Apex

A. Mouse is correct.

Most people are not properly informed about what is truly best for the environment versus was is in vogue and is promoted by the media and environmental groups. Hybrids are promoted because the fit the framing or the meme that fossil fuels is bad and any alternative is better without looking into the details.

The most environmentally conscious car is usually something like a small honda civic that is not a hybrid, or maybe even a smart car (if you don’t mind driving a death machine). And it turns out these small fuel efficient cars are also the cheapest. They just don’t impress any of the green crowd so they get less credit for their true greenness compared to those vehicles that follow the current view of what constitutes green.

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avatar Candide

Yes, I considered the environment in purchasing my last car. I also considered the safety features of the car, which is why I knocked out the Insight, Fit, Yaris, SmartCar (a glorified golf cart) and Cobalt because they’re so small they’re unsafe. Ultimately chose a clean diesel car that’s cheaper than the Prius and gets great gas mileage (30+ city, 45+ highway).

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avatar Julie

Total tangent, but I’m happy to preach the virtues of the Fit’s safety to anyone who is interested after totaling one less than a month ago. We would have gotten another one to replace it if there were more than couple used ones to be found (and if they offered any significant savings over a new one – they hold their value insanely well). Small != unsafe.

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avatar Evan

I think I should feel like a bad person, but I don’t – I literally have no consideration other than the price of the car and how much gas will cost me over the life of the car.

Again, though and I am not sure why, but I don’t feel bad at all.

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avatar Steve

The battery/production pollution issue is, IMHO, a red herring and/or FUD.

However, I do think it is at least debatable that a hybrid power train is what is best for the environment for the reason that it tends to make cars significantly heavier. The heavier a car is, the more energy it takes to accelerate and decelerate it. They do what they can to minimize this effect, but they can’t eliminate it.

For instance if my regular commute involves some steep hills, and thus I will never get the advertised mileage from a hybrid because it takes so much energy to get up that hill. Not all of it will be reclaimed from going back down the hill, since getting up the hill requires putting the engine into low gear/high revolutions, a highly inefficient mode. This is just one example.

Total cost wise, it’s not clear what would be cheaper. If the total cost is equal I would buy a hybrid over a Fit/Yaris/SmartCar because the hybrid is typically a larger, more comfortable, and/or more technologically equipped car.

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avatar Apex

So you declare that something that takes dual construction capacity to produce (two engines you know, not just batteries). Plus the use of a quickly depleating resource (lithium). Plus the need to replace those and dispose of the used ones and the chemicals and water used in the construction of the batteries. You declare that all to be FUD and a red herring.

Sadly this is exactly what I am talking about and far too often this is what it means to be green. Feel good about something. Don’t bother to get the facts. Declare those who point out the downsides as promoting FUD and presto, more warm green fuzzies to feel good about.

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avatar Steve

Did you even read my whole comment? At no point did I indicate “I have warn green fuzzies.” In fact I very clearly stated that I find it debatable that hybrids are good for the environment. Just because I disagree with you about the reasons doesn’t make me wrong.

Anyways, you are the one asserting that producing hybrids does more harm than the reduced gas consumption does good. Please put some evidence behind your claim. Otherwise it is just FUD.

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avatar Jim

Mouse, Apex,

Do you have credible data to support the idea that the environmental costs of manufacturing the hybrid drive & battery outweigh the environmental savings??

What is the environmental cost to manufacture a hybrid battery? If you can’t answer that then you’re argument is based on nothing more than assumption.

This document refutes an argument that ridiculous Prius are less green that Hummers:
http://www.pacinst.org/topics/integrity_of_science/case_studies/hummer_vs_prius.pdf

They cite about half a dozen studies that found that 75-90% of the lifetime total energy use of a vehicle is during useage (gasoline used) and only 10-25% is from manufacture and disposal.

A Smart *might* be a little greener than a Prius but thats hardly an apples to apples comparison. Would a hybrid version of a Smart be greener than a standard Smart?

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avatar KC

Most of what I’ve read recently doesn’t point to car traffic as being the major problem with the environment – its still factory emissions that are the big, big problem. That being said when we look to buy a car we look at a few things. Safety (front and back seats) is most important, by far. The problem is large sedans and mini-vans are (in general) the safest cars. And, of course, we all know they they aren’t the most fuel efficient. Our family is two tall adults and a 100 lb Golden Retriever – we may be adding to the family in the near future (human or canine or both). We simply need a bigger car just to get us all around. So I think safety and needs are the first two things we look at when buying a car. If I look at fuel efficiency it isn’t for the environment – its for my pocketbook.

Last time we looked at a car was May of 2007 when my husband’s Civic was totaled. We looked at the Camry hybrid and Prius. Although they were great cars we couldn’t see the savings. They were more expensive to begin with. Then there was the issue of the batteries – they are most likely to wear out in a couple of years and are quite expensive. Also, at the time the only person that could work on a hybrid was the dealer – so our maintenance costs would be quite higher over time (we keep cars for 10+ years). My biggest beef was gas mileage. Hwy estimates were about 34mpg. That’s pitiful – my non-hybrid Acura TL gets actual 31mpg on the hwy (I’ve tested in many times). Granted the city mileage on a hybrid is about 14mpg better than my TL, but that just wasn’t good enough for me. I couldn’t seethe cost savings of buying a hybrid at that time. Hopefully hybrids will get a lot better on their mileage.

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avatar Jim

“Then there was the issue of the batteries – they are most likely to wear out in a couple of years and are quite expensive”

This is another common misconception about hybrids.

THe batteries are warrantied to last 100k miles at least and should last much longer. Hybrids have been on the road for a decade. Prius has a 100k / 8 year warranty on the battery and they expect the battery to last the “life of the car”. Honda warranties are now 10 year/ 100k. My friend has an original Honda Insight which is now 10 years old and no problems. People have logged > 200k on Prius with no battery failures. Battery failure rate on 2nd generation Prius is 1 in 40,000 which would be due to random defective parts and not batteries running out.

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avatar Apex

No I can’t prove that hybrids are LESS environmentally sound than a non-hybrid.

The point is that most people just dismiss or entirely discountthe environmental impact of the multi drive system construction and the battery construction and replacement.

You can see it in the posts above by the defenders of using such a technique:

“The battery/production pollution issue is, IMHO, a red herring and/or FUD.” – no proof, just a declaration.

“What is the environmental cost to manufacture a hybrid battery? If you can’t answer that then you’re argument is based on nothing more than assumption.”

As I said, I can’t answer it, but neither can you (and even in acknowledging this you ignore the impact of producing two drive systems, one electric and one combustion).

My point is that when people promote hybrids I have only seen mileage impact as the sole point of comparison. This article does the same. So the article declares certain cars the most green based on gas mileage alone. That is simply wrong. Does that make the hybrids less green than non hybrids. I don’t know. It makes them less green than they are purported to be.

And if I want to be green I would think I would want to know if I was really being green or if I was just believing I was being green. Without full impact comparisons you don’t know, but for most who want to be green, the mileage alone seems to be enough to get the green label.

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avatar csdx

Ok, then let’s take the only real data that has been presented thus far: car manufacture accounts for 10-25% of the total environmental impact, driving/use 90-75%.

Let’s take the worst case scenario: A hybrid takes 2x as much to produce as another car, and we’ll use the 25% figure. This means that to be at least environmentally neutral the hybrid would need to have 25%/75% = 1/3 better gas mileage than the other car. To put it another way, if the car got 30mpg, the hybrid would need to have 39mpg or more to do better.
From: fueleconomy.gov
Honda Civic: 29 mpg combined
Honda Civic Hybrid: 42 mpg combined

Also remember this is a worst case scenario, using the high end of numbers presented, hard data is likely to skew even more in favor of hybrids

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avatar Jim

Apex,

Lets go back to the start. A. Mouse asserted that “Hybrid vehicles likely rank among the most environmentally destructive of all new vehicles on the road, due to the added resources needed for battery systems.” and you said “A Mouse is correct” without any kind of qualifications. You then stated that a standard Honda Civic is the most green friendly car.

Thats going a ways further than merely raising the question or wondering out loud what the manufacturing impact is. You both clearly argued that hybrids are not as green as other cars and had no factual basis for such claims. You had no data and couldn’t present any. That is pretty much the definition of FUD as far as I’m concerned.

I agree that there is added environmental cost to producing the hybrid drivetrain and battery. There is also added environmental cost to produce a 6400 pound Hummer compared to a 3042 pound Prius. You’re not going to argue that manufacturing a 3 ton Hummer is LESS environmentally impactful than manufacturing a 3000 pound Prius including the battery are you? A Mouse seems to think so since hes stating hybrids are the worst environmental impact.

Generally comparison of ‘green’ cars or environmentally friendly cars compares MPG and emissions only. You are correct that to be a little more accurate total environmental impact they should also compare the environmental costs of manufacturing. But thats going to correlate to fuel economy as small light weight fuel economical cars are going to have lower environmental manufacturing impact compared to larger heavier lower MPG cars.

One could also argue that American made cars are more environmentally friendly due to the transportation impact of importing foreign cars. Would you use that point for a basis to argue that American cars are greener than imports with no data to substantiate the claim? If someone made such an argument it would be clear FUD wouldn’t it?

The environmental impact from the manufacturing costs of an entire car are a fraction of the environmental impact from the oil burned when people drive the cars. Half a dozen studies support that. That clearly shows that environmental impact from manufacturing is not as consequential as environmental impact from oil use. So therefore it follows that the MPG savings of a hybrid would outweigh the added environmental costs from making said hybrid since fuel usage far outweighs manufacturing impacts. Simply put: Fuel impact > manufacturing impact

If a typical car gets 20 MPG and it lasts 150k miles for its life then it will burn through 7500 gallons of gasoline. All the studies say that at worse 25% of the environmental impact of making a car is in manufacturing therefore the total worst case environmental impact of manufacturing a car is equivalent to burning about 2500 gallons of gasoline. So making a 3000 pound car takes ~2500 gallons of gasoline give or take. It would be hard to argue that making a 200 pound battery pack which is mostly simple metals will burn through more than a few hundred gallons of gasoline, don’t you think?

You are raising fear uncertainty and doubt. That is FUD.

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