When I bought my used Smart Fortwo last year, I had in mind not only fuel efficiency but also ease of parking, a valuable feature for a car in San Francisco. And that has in fact proven to be a major bonus that I wouldn’t easily give up. I don’t drive enough to be that concerned about gas prices, but when I do drive, of course I like to know I’m driving a cleaner car.
Now that so many electric car choices are coming out, including an electric Smart in the near future, I look forward to a time when I can afford one — and when we’ll have electric car plug-ins available at my condo, so that buying an electric vehicle would even be feasible. I’m working on that and will provide updates here. In the meantime, one of my consolations has been that Chelsea Sexton, a major electric car advocate, has also been driving a Smart car. But I still long for an electric car of my own.
So I was glad to see this year’s Greenest Vehicles list from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE). The list is not what you might expect, with the Honda Civic GX, a vehicle that runs on compressed natural gas — rather than an electric car — topping the list. It did make sense that in second place is the Nissan Leaf, an all-electric car. But who would have thought, with all these electric cars coming out, that the Smart would be number 3 on the list?
In fact, the list includes many standard cars interspersed with a few electrics and hybrids — many of them beating the Chevy Volt, which comes in at number 13. Why this odd mixture? The ACEEE explains how they rated the vehicles. They considered four types of data in their assessments: tailpipe emissions, fuel economy, vehicle mass, and for hybrids and plug-in vehicles, battery mass and composition. And they assessed the impacts of the cars through their lifecycle: materials production and product manufacturing, emissions and other effects when the car is in use, and the end-of-life effects of disposal and recycling.
The fact that so many conventional cars made it onto the Greenest Vehicles list shows how serious car manufacturers have become about increasing fuel efficiency. That’s a good thing — although electric cars promise greater emissions reductions in general, we’re going to be stuck with gas-powered vehicles on the roads for quite a while, so we should make them as clean as possible. As battery disposal and energy production improve, electric cars will rise to the top of the Greenest Vehicles list. For now, it’s good to see that we’re making strides with both electric and gas-powered vehicles. And it’s good to see my own car so high on the list.
p.s. The electric Smart Fortwo would have topped the Greenest Vehicles list, but it wasn’t included because of low sales volumes — this year, only 250 are available in the U.S. on a trial basis.