The Honda Civic Hybrid: The "greenest vehicle of 2010" at 43 mpg on the highway, according to ACEEE. (American Honda photo)
It's not exactly news that Honda is the greenest automaker in the Top Eight--the company has won that designation in all five of the Union of Concerned Scientists' surveys over the past 10 years. No, the big news this year is that Hyundai/Kia (the sleeper companies from Korea) are gaining fast, and nearly took the top spot in the survey released this month (and covering the 2005 to 2008 model years). [Hyundai currently owns less than 40% of Kia, though in the past they owned 51%.]
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"American Honda has had a commanding lead over its competitors in greenhouse gas emissions," said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer/analyst in the clean vehicles program at UCS. "But Toyota had closed the gap considerably in the last survey, and when we sat down to crunch the numbers we were poised to see it take the top spot. But Toyota completely stalled out on greenhouse gas production -- its fleet CO2 averages were the same as three years ago."
But Hyundai/Kia (which tied with Toyota for second) leaped forward, nearly dethroning Honda. And it wasn't because the carmaker emphasizes smaller cars (it's actually moving somewhat upscale). "They followed our playbook of making the cleanest vehicles in the greatest number of classes," Kliesch said. "Honda and Toyota came in first or second in four of the seven categories we had. Toyota and Honda competed in seven of eight categories, and Hyundai competed in six of eight."
I wasn't surprised by the Hyundai results, because the company has come on like gangbusters in recent years. It has launched the impressive Hyundai Sonata hybrid (37/39 mpg), and set an ambitious goal--50 mpg overall by 2025.
Hyundai Motor America's chief executive, John Krafcik, acknowledged that the goal was a stretch, but said he was "very confident" the company could reach it.
"We don't know precisely how to get there right now," he said, speaking here at the Center for Automotive Research's Management Briefing Seminars. "We do have a road map."
The American companies did terribly, but then they always do. They were holding on the the bottom three slots, with Chrysler at number eight, GM at seven and Ford (only one point ahead of GM) at sixth. The rankings earned Chrysler the "dirty tailpipe" award. It was in last place in 2005 also.
Honda's overall score of 86 meant its fleet is 14% better than average. "We're happy to be recognized yet again," said Honda spokesman Chris Naughton. "Fuel economy and emissions reduction did not become a focus for us recently -- it's been there for decades. And we know our competitors are either right on our heels or else making gains."
Volkswagen, which is poised to launch a whole fleet of hybrids, came in fourth, and Nissan (making ready for the electric Leaf) was fifth.
In terms of actual global warming emissions in grams per mile, Toyota and Volkswagen were closely aligned at 0.122 and 0.123 respectively. Honda was right behind with 0.125, and Hyundai was at 0.127.
Kliesch notes that despite some poor showings, all the carmakers showed improvements. "That shows that regulations work," he said. "The years we studied coincided with the phasing in of California's Tier II tailpipe standards. And the 2012-2016 fuel economy standards, which lead to 35.5 mpg in 2016, are moving the country in the right direction." Coming soon, the 2017-2025 standards, which could get cars to 60 mpg if a coalition of environmental groups (including UCS) has anything to do with it.
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