Thursday, October 7, 2010

Study: Honda leads as greenest automaker, again

Honda has the greenest vehicles in the United States, with Toyota and Hyundai tying for second place, according to a study released on Thursday by the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group.

The results were calculated using the predicted impact of the automakers’ fleets on global warming — based largely on miles per gallon -– as well as the smog-forming emissions of the engines.

The study looked at eight automakers that together sold 92 percent of the vehicles available in the United States during the 2008 model year. The advocacy group explained that 2008 was the most recent year for which its researchers felt comprehensive information from the Environmental Protection Agency and Transportation Department was available. The results were also weighted for sales.

The study said that “selling a modest number of clean and efficient models” was not enough to be considered a green automaker. Instead, an automaker has to do well with all its vehicles.

The scores were calculated by giving the global warming and smog-forming emissions data equal weight. A score of 100 indicates the average of the eight automakers studied. Scores with lower numbers indicate better, greener performance. For example, a score of 80 means that automaker was 20 percent better than the industry average.

The top three automakers were extremely close.

“We really did have a photo finish this year between Honda, Toyota and Hyundai,” said Jim Kliesch, the author of the study and a senior engineer in the group’s Clean Vehicles Program.

Honda, which has taken the top spot every year since the study began five years ago, received 86 points, while Toyota and Hyundai tied with 87 points. Volkswagen followed with 90 points, then Nissan (93 points), Ford (108 points), General Motors (109 points) and Chrysler finished last with 113 points.

Selling a lot of small, fuel-efficient vehicles could help an automaker, Mr. Kliesch acknowledged. But he said to excel automakers had to do well with vehicles of all sizes, not just on fuel economy but also on emissions.

While all automakers must meet certain minimum emissions standards some manufacturers produce more sophisticated engines that are cleaner.

“There is actually a big difference between doing a bare minimum to meet what is required by law and doing what is technically achievable,” Mr. Kliesch said in an interview.

He noted that Toyota sold a wide range of vehicles, including trucks and high-performance vehicles, yet it came within 1 point of matching Honda.

“One of the things that Toyota did that propelled its performance was it produced efficient hybrid vehicles in volume,” he said. “If you took the Prius out of their mix, Toyota would have ranked fourth over all. In many respects the environmental halo that Toyota has as a result of its Prius is warranted.”

Mr. Kliesch said that when he began reviewing information this year he thought the question would be whether Toyota, which was second last year, would finally overtake Honda.

He said he did not imagine that Hyundai, which was in third place last year, might move up to match Toyota. “They nearly spoiled the party for Honda and Toyota,” he said. “They may not be having the lowest emissions in every class in which they compete, but they are right up there in the top couple of manufacturers. So across all the classes in which they compete, they are consistently delivering low emissions and good global warming performance as well.”

The study described the domestic automakers as having “continued poor performance” and being “mired” at the bottom of the lists.

It said G.M.’s poor ranking “reflects, more than anything, a poor hybrid strategy. The company focused primarily on hollow hybrids, which offer minimal fuel savings and on a different but promising ‘two-mode’ hybrid design in its large trucks that unfortunately was mated to upsized, rather than downsized, engines.”

“Hollow hybrids” was a reference to vehicles like the Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and the Saturn Vue Green Line hybrid, which lacked the sophisticated, more expensive and fuel-efficient hybrid powertrains of vehicles like the Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid.

While the domestic automakers might have been at a disadvantage in the fuel economy ratings because they had larger vehicles, they were also hurt because, over all, their engines produced more smog-forming emissions than their foreign competitors, the study found.


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