Earth Friendly Cars

On a daily basis, driving your car has one of the biggest impacts on the environment. The good news is that thanks in large part to strong fuel economy and pollution standards, automakers are finally putting their clean car programs in high gear. We expect over the next year or two, just about every major automaker to have at least electric vehicle in their lineup , such as the Chevy Volt plug in hybrid electric vehicle and the Nissan Leaf pure electric vehicle. Clean, efficient cars are the future of the auto industry and will reduce drivers fuel bills, cut pollution and help end our oil dependency.

Right now, the cleanest option are good hybrids: Toyota Prius, Honda Civic and Insight hybrids and the Ford Fusion hybrid are ones that are particularly clean for smog and global warming pollution. For a good list of top green choices, see the EPA Green Vehicle Guide list or the ACEEE Green Guide.

But by end of this year, we expect mainstream electric vehicles by major automakers to be hitting the showrooms, starting with the Nissan Leaf pure battery electric car and the Chevy Volt plug in hybrid electric vehicle. (Note: the plug in version of the Prius is not expected until 2011 or 2012. The Focus Electric is not expected until 2011 or 2012.)

In general, electric vehicles are the cleanest options, emitting less global warming pollution from the powerplant than the cleanest hybrid emits from its tailpipe. Having said that, how clean a electric vehicle will depend on how clean your powerplants are; areas that depend more on dirty coal plants, like the Midwest, will see less pollution benefits than areas like California which has adopted many policies to force utilities to make clean up their powerplants. In the worst case if an EV charged up only electricity generated from coal, it’s about as a clean as a good hybrid, like a Toyota Prius. Simply put, when it comes to electric cars, cleaner powerplants means cleaner cars.

Hydrogen fuel cells vehicles remain very promising but the key challenge will also be where to fill up on hydrogen. Electric cars have a huge head start on hydrogen in that electrical outlets are everywhere. Realistically speaking, hydrogen fuel cell cars are probably 5 years away from the showroom.

Ethanol is another option but almost all the ethanol produced today in the US is made from corn which is not a sustainable way to make fuel.

We recommend when shopping for a new vehicle that drivers  first right-size their choice; that is, don’t buy a bigger vehicle than necessary.  If you can’t wait for an electric vehicle or if a hybrid doesn’t meet your needs, then search for the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle in its size class.  The US EPA has a very convenient web site, “ Green Vehicle Guide” that allows a shopper to search for green vehicles in a variety of different manners.