The Honda Civic GX, a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas, was named last week as the greenest car of the year by the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid claimed spots two and three in ACEEE’s annual environmental rankings—the Green Book Online—followed by the Smart ForTwo, Toyota Yaris and Nissan Altima Hybrid.
This is the twelfth year that ACEEE produced the Green Book Online, which assigns vehicles a single “green” score based on tailpipe emissions, fuel consumption, greenhouse-gas emissions, and a cradle-to-grave lifecycle analysis. The most dramatic trend this year was the emergence of two Chevy cars on the top ten list—and the introduction of clean diesel vehicles.
We spoke with Shruti Vaidynanathan, primary analyst for Green Book Online, about these trends.
HybridCars.com: The Honda Civic GX was once again named greenest car of the year. Yet, the vehicle sells in very low quantities and most consumers don’t have access to CNG. Do sales numbers matter in the overall green car equation?
Shruti Vaidynanathan: To a certain extent, they do. We try to rank as many vehicles as we possibly can. The GX has seen as recent explosion of interest in California and Utah. Because it’s so popular in certain pockets of the United States, we think it’s worth ranking. It’s important to get that information out there, especially if people are looking at compressed natural gas technology to reduce emissions from vehicles.
Do you see CNG as rising above its niche status at some point?
Hopefully. One thing that the green list this year has told us is that there’s so much technology making it to the market. You never can tell. I think people are interested in CNG as an option, but if some other technology becomes more valid and cheaper, then that might take over. CNG is one of the front-runners for now.
A couple of Chevy cars made it to the top 10 list this year.
I know. The domestics did pretty well this year.
Is this the beginning of a trend of domestic cars becoming greener, and maybe catching up with Asian manufacturers?
I think so. I think domestic manufacturers have realized the need to go greener in order to compete effectively. With fluctuating gasoline prices and oil prices, and an unstable economy, domestic manufacturers are realizing they have to up their game and provide consumers with what they want. And in this case, it’s a smaller more fuel-efficient vehicle. Hence, the Chevy Aveo and Pontiac G5 making it to the list.
When you’re looking across the whole spectrum of several hundred vehicles, do you see a shift between domestic and import car companies, with domestics making gains?
“Manufacturers are obviously sitting up and taking notice that people want greener vehicles.”
I can’t say I’ve seen a definitive pattern, but I have noticed that the [greener domestic] offerings have gradually increased in the past couple of years. GM and Ford have introduced a variety of extra fuel efficiency vehicles to their model lines. So, they are making an effort. I suspect that it will take them a little more time to actually catch up to the foreign vehicle makers.
Fifty-state clean diesels finally arrived in 2008, and it looks like more are coming.
Seems like it. We only ranked the Volkswagen Jetta and Jetta Sportwagen, and some of the Mercedes and BMW vehicles out there, but I’m anticipating that a lot more are going to start flooding the market.
Are the BMW clean diesels the cleanest vehicles among all that BMW offers?
They ranked higher than almost all of the other BMWs, except for some of the smaller BMWs that rank better because of lower weight.
There seems to be an overall trend toward greening. The greener cars are greener than ever, and the dirtiest vehicles are not as dirty. How is this happening?
For a large part, the fact that the meanest vehicles aren’t as dirty this year is because a lot of the big diesel vehicles that were on the list last year were not produced this year. For example, last year the vehicle that topped our meanest list was the diesel Volkswagen Touareg. It’s not being made this year. There’s been a shift away from the dirtier heavier diesels toward the cleaner Bin 5 diesels. That’s positive.
Besides dropping the dirtiest vehicles from production, is the total greenness of the fleet greener than it was last year?
It’s negligible. But I think we’re inching in the right direction. There’s a minute change from last year and this year, but if you look over the course of four or five years, we’ve come a fair ways. The fact that manufacturers are making so many tweaks to their engines and to the body of the vehicles, trying to lightweight and make them more streamlined and efficient, is a good thing. They are obviously sitting up and taking notice that people want greener vehicles.
Does the economic downturn and low gas prices threaten progress toward greener vehicles?
I don’t think so. Don’t forget that while we have lower gas prices now, I think we’re still in for long-term fluctuations. At the end of the day, it would make more sense to the average customer buy a car that doesn’t guzzle as much as gas. So, I don’t think [the economy] will put a standstill on the development of green car technology.