Sustainability: People Who Pick Green-Colored Cars are Geniuses…

…but what about green cars? A recent column on Wheels.casuggests hybrid vehicles may be a passing fad. Sales (or lack thereof) of certain models seem to indicate just that, as does a survey published in a New York Times article last week: it found a large portion of Prius owners' number one reason for buying the car was the statement it made about them. (The Times article compares owning a Prius to wearing one of those "issue bracelets" first popularized by Lance Armstrong's cancer fund.)

The Wheels.ca column's biggest complaints about the Prius are its inability to achieve the same fuel consumption rates in real world conditions and the fact that it doesn't drive like a "real" car. If something better were available, the columnist contends, people would ditch the Prius. I've never driven one, so I can't really judge his assessment. However, I can sympathize with the notion that driving should be fun.

If not hybrids, then what? Wheels.ca predicts the next big thing will be diesel. Like most people, I associate diesel with old gas guzzlers that no one would ever describe as environmentally-friendly. But a new diesel version of the Mini Cooper will get the same mileage and carbon dioxide tailpipe emissions as a Prius. Of course, the Mini D initially will only be offered in Europe, where they're already years ahead of us in the car fuel efficiency department.

In related car news, the professional racecar league IndyCar Series announced this season all of its cars would be running on a third alternative fuel, ethanol. Aside from the fact that I don't pretend to understand car racing, it does seem like a huge waste of gas. If people are going to race cars, I suppose it's commendable that they won't be using fossil fuels to do so.

Or is it? Last Sunday's Mallard Fillmore comic made a mockery of ethanol and its purported environmental benefits. I normally don't pay attention to Mallard Fillmore's right-wing propaganda (naturally I prefer left-wing propaganda), but this strip makes sense. It really does take as much energy to create a gallon of ethanol fuel as you would get out of it. Then there are the environmental costs that the commercial farming of corn for ethanol incurs. It goes back to the Prius survey - people use ethanol because it makes a statement. So nice try racecar guys, but you may want to think about this one a little further.

What kind of green car would you buy? Are any of these alternative cars (hybrid, diesel or ethanol) a viable solution to automotive carbon emissions?

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10 Comments

  • Cezary

    Not sure where "most people" get there idea about diesels being gas guzzlers. Diesel engines have been in use around the world precisely because of their greater fuel efficiency, especially in the case of large size engines requiring high torque at low RPM - hence their extensive application in large trucks and heavy machinery.

    As far as hybrids and the future go, it seems to me full electric must be the ultimate goal. It allows greatest fuel flexibility (electricity can be produced from a range of fuels depending on regional availability) and efficiency when looking at the entire chain of fuel production. In the mean time, as battery technology is catching up, a diesel-electric seems like a perfect idea, provided the infrastructure for production of biodiesel is developed. Unfortunately there is not much love for the diesel in the US, so I don't see it happening.

  • Emily

    I'm in the market for a Prius as soon as I move to a place where I need a car -- it won't be as good as walking everywhere (my current mode of transportation), but it seems to be the next best thing if you're living in a place or working a job where you need to drive.

    If someone wants to come out with a car with better mileage and lower emissions, I'll be happy to test drive that too...

    Ethanol is good in that it's climate neutral (the plants take in the CO2 from the atmosphere to grow that you the release when you drive), but I'm concerned that we haven't thought through the impact on the food markets.

  • Mike

    Sorry for the quad-posting. I was getting errors when I hit post, and kept trying.

  • Mike

    "It really does take as much energy to create a gallon of ethanol fuel as you would get out of it."

    This is NOT true. It has been debunked over and over again. This is only right-wing propaganda (as you almost concluded yourself).

  • Ted Kidd

    There's no silver bullet, it's really driving dependent. Do you do a lot of round-town errands or have a long highway commute?

    With their regenerative braking and low speed shut-down Hybrids really shine around town. With their 35% more efficient fuel burn and low rpm torque, diesels really shine at steady rpm's (on the highway... or charging batteries?).

    Hybrid's are neat. Sitting at traffic lights (or in a friend's driveway chatting) the engine is off - silent, odorless - while the heat or A/C keep working. Nice.

    Diesel's are awesome (I'll probably never own gas again). Efficient, great power, easy to refine (including bio-diesel - much better payback than corn based ethanol).

    Diesels, due to their high compression ignition, are built beefier than gas engines - so they tend to last a LOT longer. Thus the option premium generally carries over into the used market. In other words - not only to you receive a payment for the option cost of the diesel every time you visit the pump, the full cost is often fully recovered when you sell the vehicle.

    I want a DIESEL HYBRID - that seems the best of both worlds. Alas, with the population so prejudiced and ignorant about diesels, that's a LONG way off.

  • Heather

    Diesel definitely. The infrastructure to produce it is already there and there is no car better than a diesel Jetta.

  • Ron

    I find the Prius comments amusing. I've been driving one of the current versions since 2004. I get a solid 47 mpg, most recently verified on a trip from Fresno to San Diego. This matches mileage around town and freeways I tracked the past 3 years. I have fun passing cars on a steep grade on a local street I've used as my "test track". Lots of room. Passengers have remarked how roomy and comfortable the back seats are. And its has been very comfortable and handled well on two trips to Northern CA and back. Even took the winding roads around Ft. Bragg without any problems. Not as fun as a sports car, but its better than many other cars I've driven and don't forget -- 47 mpg, consistently.