Drive smart with this green car guide
Sales surge and technology advances as more car buyers choose green cars for low (or no) emissions and more affordable cost of ownership.
Picture this: you’re driving an electric vehicle to the local grocery store and 90 percent of the cars you pass are also zero-emission electric vehicles (EV). Does this sound like the distant future? Researchers predict this reality may be upon us much sooner than we might imagine.
A green car revolution in the making
While green vehicle purchases are increasing, they still account for only a fraction of new car purchases in the U.S. Even so, we may be on the cusp of a fast-adoption (up to 90 percent by 2040) transition to EVs, similar to last century’s conversion from horses and buggies to gasoline-powered automobiles, according to a recent National Geographic article, Electric Cars May Rule the World’s Roads by 2040. A mass shift to EVs would cause carbon dioxide emissions to drop precipitously – “the equivalent to 60 percent of total U.S. emissions today,” National Geographic’s Stephen Leahy reports.
A green car buying guide
Green cars are becoming more affordable and more powerful, with longer driving ranges and better handling. In short, green cars are contending with fossil-fuel cars as viable choices for mainstream, middle-class households. To find out what kind of green car may be right for you, we’ve compiled research on some of the most popular options.
These cars run on two different power sources – most commonly, a traditional combustion engine and fuel tank, along with an electric motor and battery pack(s).
Plug-in hybrids (PHEVs)
These cars provide the added ability to plug the car into a specially equipped electric outlet to charge the battery, which dramatically increases both the range of the electric mode and the fuel efficiency.
- Higher fuel efficiency than standard gasoline-powered vehicles (electric mileage varies – some PHEVs rival electric vehicles for local drives).
- Long driving range fueled by both gas and electric engines.
- Lower emissions than standard fossil-fuel powered vehicle.
- Many PHEVs qualify for federal and/or state tax credits up to $7,500. Check the U.S. Department of Energy website.
- Still emits carbon dioxide.
- Many still have a higher initial price point than a standard vehicle.
- Battery replacement is pricey, but some batteries will last the lifetime of the car.
Electric vehicles (EVs)
Increasingly popular with manufacturers and the public, zero-emission plug-in cars are powered by electric engines that run on electricity stored in battery packs. These cars are breaking through previous barriers-to-purchase by expanding the driving range between charges, as well as decreasing the overall cost of ownership (purchase price, energy and battery replacement costs). By 2020, Forbes.com predicts that EVs are likely to cost the same as their fossil-fuel counterparts.
- One of the greenest options for vehicles – no emissions.
- Great for local commutes and trips.
- Lifetime cost-of-ownership is increasingly competitive with fossil-fuel vehicles.
- EVs often qualify for federal and/or state tax credits up to $7,500.
- Growing charging infrastructure (more than 48,000 public electric charging outlets across the nation, according to the U.S. Department of Energy).
- Still has a higher initial price point – takes time to realize cost-of-ownership savings.
- Battery replacement is quite pricey but the cost is decreasing.
- Degree of greenness is influenced by your regional power grid – fossil fuels, wind, solar.
- Can take a long time to recharge.
Hydrogen fuel cell
Hydrogen fuel cell cars “create electricity to power the battery and motor by mixing hydrogen and oxygen in the specially treated plates that combine to form the fuel cell stack,” according to a Los Angeles Times description.
- Emits nothing but water – zero-emission vehicle.
- Quick to re-fuel.
- Longer driving range than EVs.
- Limited availability of makes and models.
- Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles purchased after January 2017 do not qualify for a federal tax credit, but California offers a state tax credit.
- Very limited infrastructure – fewer than 50 fueling stations across nation (U.S. Department of Energy).
- Current manufacturing process for fuel cells is energy-intensive and expensive.
The denser diesel fuel provides more miles per gallon than gas.
- Greater fuel-efficiency (mpg) than standard gasoline-powered vehicles.
- High mileage between refueling.
- Durability of engines.
- Diesel engines are more expensive to build, and, therefore, diesel cars are more expensive.
- Diesel vehicles emit CO2 and nitrous oxide.
The quest to find the ‘greenest car’
Electric vehicles hold the title for “greenest car” because of their zero emissions at the tailpipe, according to David Foster, professor of biology and environmental science at Messiah College. “Several scoring systems go beyond this to include manufacturing and even regional electric generation (whether your power company uses renewable or fossil fuels). Even including this, EVs still rank higher.”
Researching the greenest makes and models
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy offers guides and rankings for the greenest cars.
As green cars rapidly advance in technology and decrease in price, you may find that a green car is increasingly within reach.