LEAF number 2 on Greenest of 2011 list
Since model year 2000 the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) has selected a list of the top 12 “Greenest Vehicles of the Year“. These vehicles represent, in the view of ACEEE, those vehicles with the most environmentally friendly credentials. In its first year ever (as near as we can tell – greencar.org’s archives go back no further), the award went to both the natural gas powered Honda Civic GX and the General Motors EV1. The Civic is still around while the EV1 did not fare so well.
The model year 2011 edition once again finds the list topped with the natural gas powered Honda Civic GX with the all electric Nissan LEAF right behind it. While the Civic may have topped the list for environmental friendliness, it certainly has had very little impact on the environment. Introduced in 1998 and offered initially to fleet buyers the car was not made available to the public until 2005. The production numbers have never been officially released by Honda although in a 2010 conversation with hybridcars.com Elmer Hardey, Honda’s senior manager of alternative vehicles, said that they expected to double their 2009 sales of 2,000 vehicles nationwide over the next three years. Nissan expects to have significantly more LEAFs than that in operation in the U.S. by the end of this year. Nissan looks to see U.S. LEAF deliveries improve dramatically after the April/May 2011 time frame after a slow ramp up in production, and keeping early supply for the Japanese domestic market (JDM) due to home country tax policy. The initial goal was to have 20,000 LEAFs in the U.S. in 2011 although the constraints just mentioned will likely prevent that from happening.
In a discussion with Shruti Vaidyanathan, Research Associate with ACEEE, Living LEAF found that the organization uses the Federally certified emissions ratings, along with vehicle weight and an environmental damage index to develop their “Green Scores”. Vehicle weight is used as a proxy for determining vehicle production and recycling environmental impact. Apparently vehicles in actual use is not a consideration. We fail to see how a car with such minimal representation in society can be considered greener than the Toyota Prius (4th on the list) with over 2 million vehicles sold over approximately the same time frame that the Civic GX has been extant. Apparently real-world use (either through lack of demand or lack of production) does not apply to their calculations.
The list can be found here. General Motors’ Volt made the 12th spot on the list, four slots below the Chevrolet Cruze Eco. Smart Fortwo Electric Drive would have been the top dog on the year but with only 250 vehicles available for 2011, it deserves just a footnote. Apparently the cutoff is somewhere between 250 and 2,000 vehicles sold. Searching Honda’s archives, the best data that we could find is that Honda sold 60 GXs to the New York State Department of Transportation in 2000. Perhaps they sold a significant number in addition to other fleets that were not recorded. It just seems to us that if you are going to monitor production and recycling parameters so closely that an apparent tie is not really a tie (both LEAF and Civix GX reflect the same “Green Scores”), one should perhaps consider the number of vehicles in the hands of consumers.
I think this list is meant to show consumers the greenest vehicles available to buy, rather than rank the actual environmental impact of the vehicle models produced and sold.
It seems that the vehicle weight has a big impact in their calculation, as shown by the positions of the light smart fortwo relative to the heavy Chevrolet Volt, even if the latter is a lot more fuel efficient. I would be curious to know more about their reasoning because I always read that the use of a vehicle (fuel consumption) has a lot more impact than its production and disposal.
Gwido, everything that you mentioned is a consideration in the generation of these awards. While Honda Civic GX may in fact be a clean vehicle, for many years as number one on this list, it was not available to be purchased by the public. Also, I agree with your assessment that actual use (especially if the use of that vehicle may span several years) should have more impact than production and disposal inputs into the equation.