A research firm has named the zero-emission 2014 Nissan Leaf the cleanest production vehicle in the US, and that's figuring in the full, wheel-to-well lifetime impact of the car on the environment. The Automotive Science Group (ASG) studied more than 1,300 automobiles with at least four seats across nine categories, measuring everything from the amount of fuel needed to run the car during its lifetime to the extraction of natural resources to build the thing in the first place to end-of-life processing. ASG calls the process "wildly complex."

The battery-electric Leaf, with its 84-mile single-charge range, took top honors overall, but there were other highly ranked vehicles in different categories. ASG also said that the Mitsubishi Mirage, with its sub-2,000-pound curb weight and 40 miles per gallon fuel economy, was the cleanest among gas-powered vehicles, while the Chevrolet Spark had the lowest cast of ownership over five years.

Last month, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) put together its annual "Greenest" and "Meanest" (notice: we didn't say "Cleanest") lists and put the Leaf at number three. Topping that list was the Smart ForTwo ED battery-electric, but that was followed up by the Toyota Prius C compact hybrid, so fans of those vehicles can now start a healthy debate. The ACEEE uses data from the Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board to compile its list. We have ASG's press release below.
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Life-cycle Assessment of 1,300 Models Reveals Best of 2014

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

4 February 2014 [Santa Rosa, CA] – The Automotive Science Group (ASG) conducted a comprehensive life-cycle assessment of over 1,300 automobiles across nine categories to distinguish the BEST model year 2014 vehicles in environmental, economic, social and "all-around" performance. Auto consumers are now equipped with a car buying guide founded on principled facts, a departure from the notoriously subjective test drive "editor reviews" that have long been the industry norm.

Using a unique combination of vehicle data inputs that include conventional specifications as well as ground-breaking social, environmental and economic performance indicators, ASG's back-end algorithms are wildly complex, but the front-end results – meaningful vehicle ratings and distinguished awards – are forthright and consumer-friendly.

ASG's Automotive Performance Index is for automotive consumers what Google is for web users. Google presents the best of the web to users based on their data-driven page rank technologies. Likewise, ASG optimizes the automotive consumer search using proprietary algorithms and data-driven analysis to ensure the best vehicles are identified and differentiated in the highly competitive marketplace.

Consumers can now prioritize vehicle choices based on ethical and/or budgetary objectives. Whether it's a commitment to buy American-made, an environmental prerogative to reduce one's carbon footprint, or purely an economic choice to save thousands of dollars in fuel costs, ASG's vehicle ratings are the guidepost for the 21st Century car buyer.

"We believe our Index is the market differentiator for today's hyper-competitive automotive marketplace," says Colby Self, Managing Director of the Automotive Science Group. "Based on the principles of ecological economics, we have developed a comparative automotive assessment that recognizes corporate social responsibility efforts that ultimately lead to the best end-products for the market while remaining financially relevant to mainstream consumers."

ASG's 2014 study found the 2014 Mitsubishi Mirage to hold the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any conventionally powered model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy). With an EPA estimated 40 MPG combined and a material composition weighing less than 2,000 lbs, the life-cycle assessment – from extraction of natural resources, through manufacturing, distribution, estimated life miles driven with fuel inputs, to end-of-life processing and recovery – identifies the Mirage as an example of how conventional vehicles can reduce environmental impacts while delivering cars that are competitive in the market.

Looking to advanced automotive technologies, ASG's 2014 study found the Nissan Leaf to hold the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy). This U.S. assembled, battery electric vehicle with an estimated 84 mile driving range is the best selling all-electric car in the world for good reason, and now consumers can be confident that the increased environmental impacts of manufacturing the battery electric technology is more than offset with increased environmental performance during operational life. While the electricity mix of the U.S. grid varies by region, the average mix in 2014 provides an energy source for the Nissan Leaf that is environmentally beneficial. Looking forward, energy forecasts identify a cleaner electricity mix across the U.S. grid, further increasing the environmental benefits of electric technologies in future years.

From an economic standpoint, the 2014 Chevrolet Spark was revealed to have the lowest cost of ownership over a five-year economic forecast, taking into account purchase and operating costs of all model year 2014 automobiles available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy).

And finally, from a social performance perspective – considering the rights of those charged with vehicle manufacture and assembly – the BMW Group and Nissan both produced award-winning vehicles in multiple classes, demonstrating sound corporate social responsibility initiatives.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 17 Comments
      SublimeKnight
      • 10 Months Ago
      Cleanest? They should see mine. Without the need for regular oil changes (which came with free car washes), mine is always filthy.
        jsongster
        • 9 Months Ago
        @SublimeKnight
        I find that I have to remember to wash it... since I don't go to gas stations any longer. Also the rear end gets filthy quickly due to the extreme aerodynamics of the body... deposits a lot of dirt on the hatch.
      • 10 Months Ago
      What is lowest "cast" of ownership? I assume we mean cost? Using their metrics, it would be interesting to see the difference in scores between the electrics, hybrids and gas. For cars with batteries, I would assume they are taking into account the environmental effects. Since the Model S has a much bigger battery, I assume that's the reason it doesn't make it on these lists.
        BipDBo
        • 10 Months Ago
        The Tesla S won 1st place on environmental performance in the full size car category. The study did not, however, just rate environmental performance. The other ratings were: * Economic performance * Social performance * All-Around performance http://www.automotivescience.com/
      Koenigsegg
      • 10 Months Ago
      81 miles on my last charge in my Smart, freeway and city.
      BipDBo
      • 10 Months Ago
      I would like to see the actual numbers. It would also be interesting to see breakdowns of the categories of the impact (manufacturing, fuel use, scrapping, etc) which could be shown in a stacked bar graph. Mainly, I'd like to know if I buy a Leaf instead of say, a Versa, is my impact 10% less or 75% less? Since the numbers have apparently been crunch, I'd like to know more than what car (or type of car) has the least impact. I'd like to know by how much. Apparently the full study will be released in the spring sometime.
      Levine Levine
      • 10 Months Ago
      NEED more range.
      Christopher
      • 10 Months Ago
      GOOOD to know that all you have to do is plug it in, and electricity generated by elves and unicorns ( no carbon there) will power your little car to Wonderland! Yay!
        Marco Polo
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Christopher
        @ Christopher, It's true, EV technology, like renewable energy, isn't perfect. Nothing on earth made by humans is perfect. Equally true is any car runs on tyres made with oil content, on a road built from oil, etc. Also true is that much of the planet still generates power from coal and fossil fuel. But that's not the point of the article. The point the of the article, is that EV technology, from the humble Nissan Leaf, to the mighty Tesla, and including PIHV's, EREV's (and even hybrids), all help reduce pollutant emissions in a positive way. Debating which one is "cleaner" depends on so many variables, the idea is discovering which is best suited to your circumstance. ASG , quite rightly calls the process "wildly complex." It's not a matter of elves and unicorns, just common-sense. The better the technology, the cleaner the total energy dynamics. But all EV's are 'cleaner' than conventional ICE vehicles.
          Marco Polo
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          @ DarylMc Yeah, but it's not really clear if sublime knight is still talking about cars .......:)
          DarylMc
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Marco Polo
          All except SublimeKnight's apparently:)
        Paul Scott
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Christopher
        Christopher, maybe you'd like to share with us how you power your home? Do you use that "elves and unicorns" electricity, or do you just use the dirty stuff? I'll be you $10,000 that you use the dirty stuff. Why then do you feel the need to make snarky comments about EVs? EVs are the only cars that can be driven on 100% clean, renewable energy that is also 100% domestic. I've been driving my car, and running my house, on sunshine-generated electricity for over 12 years. It's much cheaper than buying the dirty stuff like you do, and I don't cause harm to others - like YOU do. Anyone who is against EVs is unpatriotic.
          Marco Polo
          • 10 Months Ago
          @Paul Scott
          @ Paul Scott Paul, I believe it's counter productive to answer EV critics with equally impossible claims of 100%. Nor is it unpatriotic to hold contrary views to your own. Everything manufactured create some level of pollution. (everything shipped creates more). Nothing is 100% . EV enthusiasts can often be their own worst enemies. Over enthusiasm, and sanctimonious sermonizing, doesn't persuade anyone. In fact, it only hardens opposition and alienates potential support.
        Grendal
        • 10 Months Ago
        @Christopher
        It shows unbelievable arrogance to be so proud of your ignorance.
      Mark
      • 10 Months Ago
      I'd like to think that this study will help quiet the naysayers who argue that EVs aren't any better overall than ICE vehicles, but I wouldn't bet on it.
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