2013 Market Trends
The automotive industry has just wrapped up a banner year in the United States, with sales of light-duty vehicles surpassing 14.5 million units, the highest in 5 years. In 2013, automakers are offering an even broader range of options for consumers as they face rising fuel economy standards enacted by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency. Sustained customer interest in fuel cost savings has also done a lot to spur manufacturers to ramp up their vehicle offerings.
This year’s list of “Greenest” vehicles saw a significant shakeup. The Toyota Prius C, Toyota’s compact Prius offering, snagged the top spot with a Green Score of 58. Following closely behind were Honda’s new all-electric Fit and the regular Prius. Rounding out the top 5 were the Prius plug-in vehicle and the Honda Civic Hybrid. The “Greenest” list is largely comprised of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, and battery electric vehicles this year. Only two highly efficient conventional vehicles make the list, the Scion IQ and the Smart ForTwo. Additionally, for the first time in several years, the Honda Civic Natural Gas vehicle was shut out of the list altogether
Manufacturers Introduce More Advanced Tech Vehicles
2013 saw a number of exciting electric additions to the American automobile market, many of which made the “Greenest” list this year. Three manufacturers stood out in this regard: Ford, Honda, and Toyota. Ford released the C-MAX plug-in hybrid and conventional hybrid, in addition to the Focus electric vehicle, while Honda released an electric version of its popular Fit and Toyota added a plug-in vehicle to the Prius family. The plug-in Prius, Fit, and the Focus EV claimed spots on the “Greenest” list, while the Ford C-Max plug-in marginally missed out. A number of other electric vehicles available this year, including the Mitsubishi i-MIEV, the Scion IQ, the Tesla Model S, and the electric Smart ForTwo, were not contenders due to anticipated modest sales volumes. Electric vehicles are quickly entering the lineups of many manufacturers as they strive to remain competitors in the advanced technology vehicle market.
Likewise, hybrid vehicles are poised for a good year in 2013. This year, the top-scoring Prius C hybrid was closely followed by a number of other hybrids, including: the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid, Honda Insight, Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid, and the Ford Fusion Hybrid and C-Max Hybrid. Six of the top 12 spots belong to hybrid-electric vehicles.
A number of new hybrids were introduced this year, including the Acura ILX Hybrid, Ford C-MAX Hybrid, and the Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid. The 2013 Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid earns a spot on the “Greenest” list with a score of 53. Based on the conventional Jetta, the hybrid version has been aerodynamically streamlined to reduce drag by 10 percent and uses a turbocharged engine to improve fuel efficiency while maintaining power and speed. Volkswagen has chosen to use a lithium-ion battery in combination with a significantly smaller 4-cylinder engine to power the vehicle, providing additional fuel economy gains. With an increasing array of hybrid and electric vehicles on the market, consumers have more to choose from when it comes to finding a vehicle for their needs.
Compressed National Gas (CNG) Vehicles Gain Steam
To date, the only CNG vehicle to hit the mainstream vehicle market is the Honda Civic Natural Gas. However, a number of bi-fuel CNG vehicles are poised to make waves. Already available for purchase by fleet owners, the Ram 2500 HD CNG vehicle will soon be available for purchase by individual drivers. Likewise, Chevrolet and General Motors have begun production of a natural gas version of the Silverado and Sierra 2500 that will also be available to retail customers. These vehicles can switch from natural gas to gasoline operation when CNG is depleted.
CNG vehicles haven’t yet seen the same surge in popularity that other alternative technology vehicles have due in large part to the shortage of fueling infrastructure. However, their re-introduction to the market this year reflects a resurgence of interest in some groups of buyers.
More Efficient Conventional Vehicles
While plenty of progress has been made with electric and hybrid vehicles, automakers continue to improve the performance of their conventional vehicle offerings by using a range of efficient engine and transmission technologies, along with substantial reduction in vehicle weight. Turbocharging, direct injection, and cylinder deactivation are becoming more and more common as manufacturers improve the overall efficiency of their vehicles while maintaining power. The 2013 Buick Verano and the Chevrolet Malibu have both employed small turbocharged engines for this purpose. The 2013 Honda Odyssey employs cylinder deactivation when the vehicle is coasting or cruising to burn less fuel.
As these technologies begin to proliferate through more conventional vehicles on the market, efficient, gasoline-powered engines could become real competition for hybrid and electric vehicles in terms of performance.
Greener Choices For Everyone
When it comes to buying a new vehicle, the most environment-friendly step you can take is simple: first evaluate your needs and your budget, then look for the models with the greenest scores among the cars and trucks that meet your needs and fit your budget. Even though some of our top ratings go to natural gas-powered or electric vehicles, every class has nationally available gasoline vehicles that score significantly better than average.
Our Greener Choices table highlights top-scoring vehicles available to everyone in almost all major market segments. The list includes only automatics, although many manual transmission versions have higher fuel economy. The excluded models that score even better might be good choices for some buyers. The point of the Greener Choices table is to show that there are ways to buy a cleaner and more efficient vehicle throughout the market.
It is also useful to look not only at the models in this table, but at competing models as well, since within a given size class, the better vehicles often score similarly. Thus, the Greener Choices table can get you focused on the set of models that will be among the best in their class in terms of environmental friendliness.
Buying green does more than fulfill your own personal commitment to protect the environment. Each greener choice by an individual consumer, of course, reduces pollution directly. But the market is also a give-and-take between consumers and manufacturers. As more and more consumers adopt the notion of buying green, automakers will increasingly look at environmentally friendly design as an opportunity, not just an obligation. Such feedback will motivate car companies to make further investments in improved technology, so that an expanded number of green cars and trucks will be available in the years ahead. Finally, bear in mind that the average car or light truck is likely to be operational for a dozen or more years. Even if you don't keep your new vehicle for more than a few years, your choice affects the options available for used car buyers. So instead of having yet another gas-guzzler cruising the streets, the greener choice you make today can help cut pollution for years to come.
Best Vehicles by Class
Greenest Vehicles of 2013
Meanest Vehicles for the Environment
The Year's Market Trends