European Green Cars Not Coming to the United States in 2011

Any green car advocate visiting Europe can’t help but feel a pang of envy for the sporty fuel-efficient models found across the pond, but not here. What’s up with that? Well, Europeans drive diesel, drive small, and are coming to terms with vice-grip legislation on carbon emissions—while we maintain our love for all things supersized.

That’s starting to change—very slowly—with models like the Ford Fiesta, FIAT 500 and BMW 1-Series finally making their way over. The schedule of European releases in 2011 reveals a number of cool green models that will indeed become trans-Atlantic—and at least a couple that will stay out of our reach.

The first units of the all-electric Nissan LEAF, just now arriving here, are being delivered in Europe in early 2011, just about the time that the company’s Infiniti M Hybrid hits shores in the U.S. and Europe. But don’t expect the cute as a button Nissan Micra—sold in Europe for a couple of decades and mostly targeted to emerging Asian markets these days—to show up on American’s SUV-dominated roads.

The Chevy Volt is already here, in small numbers, but will barely trickle out to Europe, as the Opel Ampera, in late 2011. The Lexus CT 200h luxury hybrid hatchback went on sale last year in Europe and was definitely not coming to America—until it was. The CT 200h, the first luxury hybrid hatchback, arrives here in the next few months. For years, hybrid and diesel versions of the 380-horsepower Porsche Panamera have been officially and unofficially scheduled, delayed, denied and then rescheduled for both Europe and the United States. Only time will tell.

But the two models producing the most saliva for hybrid fans are the diesel-electric Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, expected by fall 2011, and the Honda Fit/Jazz hybrid. That’s because the Peugeot’s unique combination of diesel and hybrid, and the Fit’s combo of hybrid and compact, are firsts.

The Peugeot combines a 163-horsepower 2.0-liter diesel engine driving the front wheels, and a 37-horsepower motor operating independently at the rear axle. It drives through a six-speed manual gearbox that can be shifted manually or left in automatic. The electric motor helps with power to the wheels, or can generate energy for the nickel metal hydride battery pack—the stored juice later made available for motive use or for the system’s stop-start no-idle function. The net result is impressive: 200 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque, a four-wheel drive mode, and mileage on U.S. test cycles that could approach or exceed 60 miles to the gallon. It’s the first full diesel-hybrid production car in the world—but missing from our fair streets. (No word on price, but the combination of diesel and hybrid batteries is a double-whammy of extra cost.)

Lexus CT 200h

Lexus CT 200h

The Honda Fit Hybrid went on sale in Japan last fall, and will be offered in Europe early this year. But the company remains indecisive about selling it in the United States. “We haven’t decided on a U.S. launch,” Koichi Kondo, Honda Executive Vice President, said at the Fit’s launch event in Tokyo. “As for the future, it’s open to question. We will carefully be watching the market situation.”

Why should we care? Because the Fit is a great small car—loads of room for such a small package—that could be made even greater with a hybrid drivetrain boosting mileage well into the 40s. Honda announced at the L.A. Auto Show a few months ago that it will produce an all-electric version of the Fit by 2012—but the economics of a battery-heavy compact don’t seem nearly as accessible as a hybrid version that might go for below $20,000. So, at this time, there appears to be little hope that America will have a compact hybrid—even though Toyota also announced last year that it will produce a Yaris hybrid (sigh) for Europe and Japan only.

The Honda Jazz

The Honda Jazz is sold as the Fit in the United States. Sorry, not available as a hybrid.

Even with these shortcomings, the global push for reduced emissions and higher fuel economy is bringing the European and U.S. car markets closer than ever before. After all, what comes out of the tailpipe here or there ends up in the same place—a global atmosphere that’s warming up at an alarming rate.


  • K14K

    I am all for good fuel economy, but I have read numerous brilliant scientists who say this carbon emissions stuff is a crock. I’m sure many readers of this site will disagree with that view, but the verdict is still out. Another hesitation many folks have with these small cars is that they are less safe than a larger SUV- all thinigs being equal, you are more likely to walk away from a serious crash from a large SUV than you are from a tin-can sized fuel sipper. These are serious concerns, and once they are more fully addressed, more people will be buying these smaller fuel efficient vehicles.

  • Charles

    You can add the Ford C-Max hybrids to the list. I hope that changes.

  • Charles

    K14K, climate change deniers often ask the believers to read their debunking web sites. So I am asking you to do the same. The Union of Concerned Scientists have the following web site:

    http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/science_and_impacts/global_warming_contrarians/

    Maybe it will change your mind.

  • Ted Brellisford

    Europeans are also not as demanding of “be the first from the light torque and power” that American motorists seem to crave. Europe has had some excellent 3-cylinder urban cars for years that have never been imported to North America. Many achieve 3-4L/100k (-58-78 MPG(US) fuel economy….all without expensive hybrid technology. They are small, light, aerodynamic vehicles with proportionally small, low emission and very fuel efficient engines. They are comfortable, have nimble handling, airbags, stability control, ABS, and air conditioning too. They’re not all European nameplates either. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Ford GM and Chrysler all sell models in Europe that North Americans have to fly to Europe to drive.

  • veek

    Regrettably, I understand the marketing researchers. US fuel just seems too cheap, and the small car market seems too saturated, for these vehicles to succeed here.

    Even hybridcars is displaying prominent ads for a GMC Yukon and a big GMC pickup as I am writing this, and the ads proudly proclaim they get 21 mpg. I’ll bet Europe or Japan have few Yukons.

    I think most readers of this forum are helping to reverse this trend, but with fuel so cheap, there’s always some reason many buyers “need” that big truck or Suburban … for now.

    Having lived there, I think the Europeans generally trust their federal governments better than Americans do (for good reasons IMHO) and are happier to cooperate with them on carbon emissions, mileage taxes, etc. I wonder how many elected US federal officials drive small cars.

  • DownUnder

    K14K,
    Yeah, every American wants “mine is bigger than his/hers”, the story never ends till they change their mindset. Everyone wants to feel safer in their battle tank, just in case. . . until they hit a double B truck.
    Yeah, gas is so cheap here. Only more expensive than the OPEC countries.

  • Normo

    “Europeans are also not as demanding of “be the first from the light torque and power” … actually when we visit the USA you seem to drive a whole lot slower and your cars seem gutless.

    “these small cars is that they are less safe than a larger SUV” … actually that is not necessarily the case. Most US cars fail to meet the more stringent N-CAP safety ratings. Sure your SUV will get a dint whereas your Prius will crumple, but you’ll be as safe if not safer in the Toyota.

    The differences in markets are complex: fuel, taxes, road sizes etc etc. If I paid $3 a gallon for my fuel I and drove down straight roads I would have a SUV too!

  • Andres

    Please do not forget to put in the list Renault Twizy, it is really another revolutionary electric car from Nissan-Renault and the Renault Fluence ZE (also electric, but standard Sedan). I think Nissan Reanult are teaking clearly the lead in advanced ecological vehicles.
    I am from Argentina, but I am very concerned about USA gas consumming habits. It affects us all. Gas prices must go up in the states. In Argentina the gas price is as low as in USA, but since we have a very low income per capita, people uses compressed natural gas for their vehicles (also a very cheap and ecological alternative).

  • Abe

    Europe has their oil refined before it gets to them, so the gasoline is just used elsewhere.
    Diesel should be for Trucks.
    You can get 10gal or Diesel and 20gal of gasoline from 1 barrel. YOU CAN’T CONVERT EVERYONE TO DIESEL. It just doesn’t work.
    We need to make smaller, safer, more efficient, reasonable priced, automatic vehicles and bring them to market. Like the Hyundai Elantra.

  • Pierre

    “The Peugeot combines a 163-horsepower 2.0-liter diesel engine driving the front wheels, and a 37-horsepower motor operating independently at the rear axle. [...] The net result is impressive: 200 horsepower, 369 pound-feet of torque, a four-wheel drive mode, and mileage on U.S. test cycles that could approach or exceed 60 miles to the gallon. “

    Hmm …. interesting.
    According to the press release from Peugeot found here (http://green.autoblog.com/2010/08/23/peugeot-launches-3008-hybrid4-worlds-first-production-diesel-t/):
    “The maximum combined power output is 200 bhp, 163 bhp from the 2.0 litre HDi FAP diesel engine and 37 bhp from the electric motor.”
    - it seems the combined power is calculated by adding the power of the diesel engine and that of the electric motor;
    - I doubt it would be 200 hp ‘combined’ if measured in accordance with SAE standard which is adopted by most, if not all, automakers in N. America.
    According to the press release, “Combined Drive Cycle fuel consumption of 74.4mpg, and CO2 emissions of 99g/km. “
    74.4 mpg(imperial) = 62 mpg(U.S.)
    - I’m skeptical that it means: ‘mileage on U.S. test cycles that could approach or exceed 60 miles to the gallon.’ as you wrote.
    - usually the U.S. EPA rating is lower than that of EU rating,
    e.g. Prius is rated 72.4 mpg(imp.) combined in accordance with EU standard; Golf 2.0 TDI is rated 58.9 mpg(imp.) combined; Honda Insight is rated 64.2 mpg(imp.) combined.

  • Matthew Martin

    What gets me is that the good old American $$ is still more important too many then human life… So those people that see green at every turn will keep progress to a minimum unless it will generate more $$. Why can’t we have a car here in the US that will travel 600 miles on a tank of fuel? Because someones profit margin will go down. Money folks, it is the cure and the cause of mankinds woes.

  • Roy Harrison

    Over here (England) there have been reports in reputable newspapers that SUV’s in america have a poor safety record. The reports say that the high centre of gravity makes them more likely to roll over in accidents and it is well known that the occupants are much more likely to be injured in roll overs whether or not seat belts are being used. These reports say that the safest cars are sizable, sturdy saloon (sedan) cars (e.g E class). I can’t vouch for the accuracy of these reports but as far as I can tell they are based on proper analysis of accident statistics.

    The perception that 4×4′s are safer exists over here too but it does not appear to be soundly based here either… and certainly not if you take into account the fact that high, flat fronted vehicles are much more likely to kill pedestrians than low, sloping fronted ones.

  • Cris

    China is #1 gas consumer in the world now and India is rapidly working it’s way up, so perhaps your concern should take a more global perspective. It is a good justification however for the leftist America haters out there….I’d be pissed too if I lived in a shithole.

  • Alicia

    Even if we’re not number one that doesn’t make us any less to blame, we need to focus on mistakes we make here in the US as well as the ones made in other coutries. So few Americans are properly educated on the etreme effects our driving has on the planet. And then there’s the ones that are that don’t do what they can to help. We’re all equally to blame. I’ve recently become insanely interested in the topic of gas consumption on a global level.I believe if there were more people out there raising awareness to these issues and less people sitting around debating about it, the problem would be solved a lot sooner. I’m only seventeen, I don’t even own my own car yet and I wan’t to do everything I can to help eliminate the issues in this counrty involving gas consumpion, as well as the obsticals we face in finding more effective alternative fuel sources. Where are all the others that want to fix this problem?