2008 Chevrolet Equinox Fuel Cell
GM sells fewer SUVs than it used to, but profitable hopes spring eternal, especially if it can spin its behemoths as efficient crossover behemoths. SUVs are also good for packaging bulky stuff such as fuel cells and hydrogen tanks.
The fuel-cell Equinox neither looks nor drives like an exotic beast. An extra 500 pounds on top of the standard 3800-pound curb weight could be responsible for a suspension that's a bit crashy over rough pavement. The 236 pound-feet of torque move the Equinox FC from stoplights with confidence, and it takes a couple of "whoa" moments before you adjust to the nonlinear brake feel endemic to many regenerative braking systems. GM claims a range of about 200 miles using the EPA test cycle, making it realistic transportation for the 100 lucky customers who, like Honda's FCX Clarity customers, will not get to keep their fuel-cell vehicle when the lease is up. Unlike Honda's extreme locale restrictions, GM is making leases available on the Equinox FC to folks in Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C.
Should the government decide it wants to invest its many spare billions in a hydrogen infrastructure, GM is confident that, in volume production, the price of proton-exchange membranes -- the reason for a hydrogen-fuel-cell vehicle's horrific build costs -- would sink to a customer-friendly price point.
2008 Roush F-150 LPI
The name Roush is commonly associated with tire-frying Mustangs and NASCAR wrastlin', but the Roush umbrella also includes engineering services and alternative-fuel vehicles. The Roush F-150 LPI burns the same stuff that torches wienies on your bottle-fed Weber. If you don't drive forklifts, city buses, or fleet vehicles for a living, you might be surprised to learn that propane is the third most commonly used vehicle fuel in the United States after gasoline and diesel, filling stations are not rare, and you can pick up accessories from Hank Hill.
You order your propane pickup from the same network of Ford dealerships that carry Roush's high-performance offerings. The base LPI package, soon to be released, will include a unique 20-gallon fuel tank mounted in place of the underbed spare tire. An extended-range version with a 50-gallon, bed-mounted tank is available now for $10,500 (plus the cost of an F-150, of course). To those who argue they can do it themselves for less, remember the F-150 LPI comes with the same three-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty as its gasoline-burning equivalent, involves no bloody knuckles, and is eligible for large federal and state tax credits.
The price of propane at the pump varies much more than that of gasoline or natural gas, but it tends to be about 60 to 70 cents a gallon cheaper than gasoline. If you buy in bulk, it gets much cheaper. Come tax time, the feds will give you a tax credit of 50 cents per gallon; if you travel 12,000 miles a year, that's about $500. You get a $2500 federal credit simply for buying an LPI F-150, and other credits vary by state; Utah, for example, gives $3000. Yep, you read that right: The average Utah buyer would get back $6000 in the first year.
2008 Toyota/Lexus Hybrids E-Mode
Toyota has plans to put plug-in Priuses on the road at some point with an extended range that can actually take you somewhere. In the meantime, the Toyota Highlander and the Lexus LS600hL get a button that allows you to lock the car into electric mode. Up to 25 mph, and until the nickel-metal hydride battery pack is depleted (about one mile), you are greener than a frat boy after six shots of Jäger. For up to 5280 feet, these cars are squeaky clean, no combustion products coating the tailpipe or rumbling exhaust note to startle dozing herons.
Once those batteries are depleted (or you give the accelerator anything more than the most modest poke), however, the gas engine purrs to life, and the situation gets a bit more carbon-black. In the case of the LS600hL, the accusation of "greenwashing" is well documented by a combined fuel mileage of 21 mpg and the fact that it produces more than twice the C02 emissions of the Prius. If Toyota allowed you to lock the Prius into electric-only drive, it would be on this list as a viable green option.
The C/D Solution: 1972 Honda N600
Santa Fe-based artist Pippa Garner, whose scribblings have adorned the pages of C/D for more than a decade, set about making the Honda N600, the first Honda imported into this country and still one of the more-fuel-efficient cars ever sold here, into the "World's Most Fuel-Efficient Car!" That's what the block letters artlessly paraded down the side of the car say, anyway.
Pippa removed the little air-cooled two-cylinder engine, the chain drive, the fire wall, and the floor and, in doing so, a full 500 pounds from the 1100-pound N600. In went two mountain-bike drivetrains flipped upside down, spinning a jackshaft connected to the car's left-front CV joint. Who says it's not a car? Strap Lance Armstrong and Mario Cipollini to the pedals, and we wager it'll beat a Smart Fortwo up an onramp.
The C/D Solution: 2000 Toyota Celica GT-S
After extensive analysis of carbon footprints and the environmental costs of manufacturing, operating, and maintaining vehicles, Car and Driver has made a startling, perhaps paradigm-shifting discovery. In our own parking lot. Before snipers from Big Oil arrive to take us out, let us assure you our example is in-house and staying here. Until we move our Ann Arbor offices the first week in May, anyway. We will, however, assist others in possessing the technology at little or no cost. Unlike every other vehicle on this list, this car's daily existence requires exactly zero petroleum products or electricity.
Old boy racer Tony Swan's 2000 Toyota Celica GT-S is an oasis of green. The 1.8-liter engine blew five years ago, and the car has been sitting in the Hogback Road parking lot ever since. Once proud Hoosier racing slicks are dry-rotting and slowly leaking air, but these emissions are forecast to taper off in the next year.
The GT-S, moreover, is now the happy home of multiplying mud wasps that are deftly sealing all available crevices with local soil and their young. As soon as the neoprene plugs sealing the fire wall fail, the interior will quickly transform into a wind-and-predator-proof habitat for chipmunks, field mice, and adventuresome swallows. Soon, like a ship sunk at the Great Barrier Reef, the Celica will be teeming with wildlife, awash in the green to which Toyota so desperately aspires.