Gasoline-powered cars are slowly starting to look like pirates plundering the world for fuel and slashing environmental throats as they go. Thanks to that, the fair maiden electric vehicles with zero-emissions claims and low-cost fueling can easily float in on the smog cloud looking squeaky-clean. But are they?
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Electric vehicles probably seem to have a tiny carbon footprint at the surface, but a recent study suggests environmental impact varies in gravity according to where the vehicle is charged.
Automakers tout EVs as zero-emission transportation but that doesn’t mean they don’t have an environmental impact. The issue is that charging creates green house gases, and those emissions aren’t necessarily constant. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, which uses the electric power requirements of the Nissan Leaf as a basis for comparison, there is a significant disparity in greenhouse gases released into the environment depending on the source of the electricity itself.
Honda makes being green look easy. That’s why they are holding on to the “Greenest Automaker” title from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), making this their fifth year running.
Honda squeaked ahead of Toyota and Hyundai (both tied for second), beating the two by just one point. “It was a photo finish, but Honda is still the champ,” said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer in UCS’s Clean Vehicles Program and the author of the rankings report. “Toyota was poised to take the lead, but stalled in its efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Meanwhile, Hyundai’s fleet saw dramatic efficiency improvements, pushing the company into a title contender spot.”
The UCS’s “Automaker Rankings” analyzes the real-world environmental performance and ranks them on average per-mile smog pollution and global warming emissions of the entire fleet of vehicles sold. They score the top eight automakers against the “industry average” of all eight combined. By weighing smog and global warming scores equally, the scientists are able to determine each automaker’s overall score. The industry average is assigned a score of 100, and each automakers’ scores reflect how far above or below average an automaker pollutes. The lower the score, the greener the automaker is.
Honda came in first with a score of 86, while Toyota and Hyundai each finished with 87. Volkswagen came in fourth place (90), followed by Nissan (93), Ford (108), General Motors (109) and Chrysler (113). Rounding out the bottom was Chrysler, who was deemed the dirtiest automaker (they have finished last in four of the five UCS rankings conducted over the past ten years).
[Source: Union of Concerned Scientists]
It probably wasn’t surprising. Given the BMW X6′s performance and distinct lack of practicality, it was ripe as a target from environmental groups, even in Hybrid form. Recently, automotive engineers at the Union of Concerned Scientists have declared, in an update to their Hybrid Scorecard, that in a comparison against the the Mercedes-Benz S400 Hybrid, the BMW ActiveHybrid X6 “squanders its hybrid drivetrain in favor of boosting power, while the Mercedes-Benz S400 hybrid achieves some success in lowering costs by combining its relatively weak hybrid drivetrain with a downsized conventional gasoline engine.”
The X6 is BMW’s first hybrid on the market, using electric power to supplement the twin-turbo charged 4.4-liter V8 engine, delivering stellar performance, but according to the UCS a relatively poor score of 4.4 out of 10, not helped by a $10,000 sticker premium over the standard X6. By contrast, the Mercedes S400 Hybrid, which uses a six cylinder engine, but is still a mild hybrid (meaning it cannot run on electric power alone) is priced below the conventional S550, garnering greater UCS approval. The Union also dubbed the BMW’s price premium as “forced content” stating that such a marketing strategy unnecessarily drives up the cost of hybrid cars across vehicles classes. And we thought it was technology.