In Sea Change, Electric Cars Top Greenest Vehicle List
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy today announced that the Mitsubishi i electric car was rated the greenest car in its 14th annual environmental rankings of cars and trucks. The small EV unseated the Honda Civic Natural Gas car, which held the top spot in ACEEE’s green car rankings for the past eight years—and represents a sea change in green car technology. In this year’s rankings, the all-electric Nissan LEAF came in second place. This year's impressive showing for electric cars likely establishes future dominance for EVs in green rankings from ACEEE and other organizations.
The CNG Civic tied with the LEAF for second place—but it’s important to understand that ACEEE researchers evaluated pollution from electric cars using an average of the nation’s electric grid mix, whereas in many parts of the country, cars that use electricity as fuel have a much smaller environmental profile. “It’s completely possible that electric cars would do much better in other parts of the country,” said ACEEE lead vehicle analyst Shruti Vaidyanathan, in an interview with PluginCars.com.
The Mitsubishi i and Nissan LEAF were the only two plug-in cars included in ACEEE’s evaluations this year. Vehicles have to sell in quantities above 1,000 units to be included—and cannot be offered as lease-only cars.
The Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid is not on the market yet, and was therefore not included this year. But ACEEE conducted an “initial study” of the Prius PHEV. “If included, the plug-in Prius would be in the top-third of list, beating the regular [no-plug] Prius, but just barely,” said Vaidyanathan.
The Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid was included this year, but did not make the Top 12 list—because, similar to electric grid mix, ACEEE used a national average of American’s driving patterns (rather than common scenarios in which Volt drivers almost always drive using electricity). Those average driving patterns—knows as “vehicle utility factors,” derived from data from the Society of Automotive Engineers—states that the Volt is within its all-electric range about 65 percent of the time. “It all depends on driving habits,” said Vaidyanathan. “If you take a lot of short trips and plug it in often, of course, it will be better.”
The Volt is also penalized for its relative heaviness. ACEEE uses vehicle weight as a proxy for pollution resulting from manufacturing. On the other hand, the Mitsubishi i scores well because of its low weight.
Beyond the top-scoring electric cars, and the Civic CNG, the list was dominated by gas-electric hybrids. Six hybrids were among ACEEE’s greenest—with three small lightweight gas-powered cars completing the Top 12.
As more electric cars emerge on the market—more than 10 will be introduced this year—pure EVs and plug-in hybrids could begin to rule the very top of the ACEEE green rankings. If evaluated based on cleaner electric grid mixes, where electric cars are most popular, electric cars could completely dominate the greenest list for years to come.
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