A car powered by natural gas topped an annual list of "greenest" 2007 model vehicles released Tuesday, while Volkswagen's diesel version of its Touareg SUV topped the "meanest" list for least environmentally friendly vehicles.
Honda's Civic GX, a $25,000 natural gas vehicle sold in California and New York, stood atop the "greenest" list, beating all gasoline-electric hybrids based on a "green score" derived from fuel economy as well as health and global warming impacts.
Natural gas is a much cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, but it is also much harder to find for refueling. As a result, Honda is also selling a refueling pump for homes with a natural gas connection.
Natural gas has historically been less expensive than gasoline, and Honda notes that GX buyers are eligible for a $4,000 federal tax credit. Buyers of the refueling pump are eligible for up to a $1,000 tax credit. The pump itself costs around $3,500; installation is extra and can be done by a plumber.
As green as the GX is, Honda hasn't talked about expanding that market to other states. "We have no current plans of expanding sales of the Civic GX beyond New York and California," said Honda spokesman Chris Naughton.
The Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid took the second and third spots, while two newcomers, the Nissan Altima Hybrid and Toyota Yaris, took fourth and fifth. Others on the list include vehicles from Honda, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota. Domestic automakers were shut out of the top-twelve list.
Detroit still lags
As in previous years, Japanese carmakers dominated the "greenest" list, which was put together by the the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
"We’ve seen a lot of advertising this past year about efficient and ecofriendly vehicles being offered by domestic manufacturers," list author James Kliesch said in a statement announcing the rankings. "But when you look at the specs that matter, it’s fair to say the imports have Detroit’s number."
Kliesch said Detroit's absence reflects a policy of wavering over the years on fuel-efficient technologies. "Certain companies committed years ago to fuel-efficient technologies — and held firm to those commitments," he said. "Today, those automakers have a clear competitive advantage in the world of green vehicles."
Detroit did see fewer of its vehicles on the "meanest" list. European imports, mostly diesels, dominated that list — a surprise given that the United States has transitioned to a low-sulfur diesel that means fewer pollutants.
"Given the arrival this year of ultra-low-sulfur diesel fuel, having five diesels show up on the Meanest Vehicles list is a letdown," said ACEEE transportation program director Therese Langer.
Langer and Kliesch said European carmakers are using older, dirtier technology with their diesels, which inherently are more fuel efficient than gasoline vehicles but emit more pollutants and require more sophisticated emissions control.
Cleaner diesel expected
"Fortunately, these same manufacturers have already announced plans to bring much cleaner diesels to the United States in 2008, using an entirely different emissions control strategy," Langer said.
"It's possible diesels could make the Greenest Vehicles list, Kliesch said. "Time will tell."
The ACEEE also listed "greener choices" for each vehicle class. Examples include the Ford Escape Hybrid SUV, GMC Sierra Classic C1500 pickup, Toyota Sienna minivan, Hyundai Sonata and Ford Focus Wagon.
Part of ACEEE’s rankings are available for free online at http://greenercars.com.