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


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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