How do you determine how environmentally friendly an automobile is? Certainly, fuel efficiency will be factored in rather highly, as will all manner of tailpipe emissions. But that's only part of the story. Consider that there are many ways to power a vehicle; gasoline, diesel, electricity or any combinations thereof. Plus, you have to determine what actually goes into producing the vehicle and getting it into the hands of the consumer.
As you can see, assigning environmental grades to our current crop of cars and trucks is anything but an exact science, and the results will no doubt be swayed by how much emphasis is put on any given factor. And so it comes as no surprise that there are a number of differing opinions concerning the latest green machines to hit the market, and that may apply to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt more than any other.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy publishes a list of green vehicles every year. For the last few, the Honda Civic GX has parlayed its compressed natural gas running gear into a victory on the ACEEE's report. We won't argue with that determination, and we also don't see any issues with the all-electric Nissan Leaf earning the silver position... but that's where things get murkier. The Smart Fortwo comes in at number three, followed by the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic Hybrid and Honda Insight. The next five slots are filled with compact and subcompact sedans and hatchbacks.
Are you asking yourself where the Volt fits in? So was Chevrolet. Speaking to Forbes, GM spokesman Rob Peterson had this to say:
No matter your personal opinion, one thing is for certain: As more and more category-bending vehicles hit the market, this topic isn't going to be resolved any time soon.
Their logic would escape the majority of consumers. If you look at the EPA ratings for the Smart fortwo at 33 city and 41 highway, it's actually less than the Volt's after the electric range is exhausted. We're being penalized against the Smart because our car is a four-seater with a battery pack and therefore weighs more. And we lose against the Leaf because we have a gas engine. But you really have to look at how the car is actually used - their methodology doesn't add up.