Choosing a climatefriendly car

After the Oil Shock in the early 1970s, when oil prices skyrocketed, new government standards required passenger cars to become more fuel efficient. Unfortunately, in North America, that trend stalled: by 2006, personal vehicles were actually less fuel efficient than the fleet of 20 years earlier.

The decline was due in part to the rise of a new beast on the road: the sport utility vehicle (SUV). The SUV, whose market share has soared since its introduction, is a huge, heavy gas-guzzler in comparison to your standard passenger car. The Sightline Institute, a Seattle-based environmental think tank, has estimated that an SUV with only a driver (no additional passengers) produces about 60 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the per-person contribution of the average air flight. Classified as a light truck (which is why it doesn't fall under tougher U.S. and Canadian fuel-efficiency standards for passenger cars), the SUV and its gas-thirsty kin — pick-up trucks and multi-passenger vans — accounted for about half of the new-car market in the U.S. through the 1990s, although this number is falling because consumers are reeling from high gas prices.

In contrast, in Europe, Japan, China, and even Australia, saving fuel is much more a way of life. In most cases, governments have legislated greater fuel efficiency (or likely will, if car manufacturers don't meet voluntary standards). But lifestyle also plays a role: Drivers in Europe, in particular, favor small vehicles that can more easily maneuver narrow streets, park in tight spots, and save on gas (which is much more expensive than it is in North America).

Table 17-1 provides some comparisons of vehicles available today.

Table 17-1

The Good, the Bad, and the Efficient Vehicles

Vehicle

Miles per Gallon (km per Liter)

Rating

Lowdown

Scooter or moped

60-160 (26-68)

Top environmental choice

Ideal for inner-city driving; uses less gas than a motorbike; powerful engine; storage space; two wheels; low cost, as compared to a car

Motorbike

35-55 (15-23)

Top environmental choice if it's a high fuel-economy bike

Fuel economy has wide range; two wheels; good for longdistance riding; special license needed in some countries

Small hybrid car

52(22)

Top environmental choice

Harvests otherwise wasted power; switches between electric and gas engines, as needed; gets better mileage in the city than on the highway — the opposite of standard gas-powered cars

(continued)

Table 17-1 (continued)

Vehicle

Miles per Gallon (km per Liter)

Rating

Lowdown

Large hybrid car

32 (14)

Top environmental choice

Harvests otherwise wasted power; switches between electric and gas engines, as needed; gets better mileage in the city than on the highway

Mini car

40 (17)

Top environmental choice

Three-cylinder engine; very compact, 2-seater, highly fuel efficient, and among the safest in its rating; great for city driving and parking. Best known is the "smart" car

Small car

28 (12)

Very fuel efficient

Small size makes them good for city driving

Large car

26 (11)

More efficient on highway than in city

Vans and minivans

26 (11)

Efficient if full!

Efficient for transporting full loads of people and/or equipment

SUVsand trucks

17 (7)

Least fuel efficient

Highly useful for transporting stuff; Hummers on a downtown street are the least efficient; diesel trucks create lower emissions than trucks running on regular gas

Hummer limousine

8 (3)

Uh . . .

Highly useful if it comes with David Beckham inside; otherwise, a waste of space

Note: Miles per gallon calculated on average between city/highway driving and automatic/ standard transmissions between various vehicles currently on the market.

Note: Miles per gallon calculated on average between city/highway driving and automatic/ standard transmissions between various vehicles currently on the market.

Although choosing a car within one of the more efficient categories in Table 17-1 can help ensure that you waste less gas, fuel efficiency can vary widely within a category. Checking online at one of the following Web sites can steer you to the most fuel efficient vehicles within a particular class:

I Australia: www.greenvehicleguide.gov.au I Canada: http://oee.nrcan.gc.ca

I United Kingdom: www.dft.gov.uk/actonco2 (click the Best on CO2 Rankings link)

I United States: www.fueleconomy.gov

¿¿jABEft The more fuel efficient the car, the lower its emissions and the better it is for the environment. Usually, smaller cars are more fuel efficient. Ninety percent of the gas in a car is used not to move people around, but to move the car itself. Because the weight of the car is such a big factor, carrying two passengers uses about the same amount of fuel as carrying just one. So, going from one passenger to two basically doubles the efficiency of a car on a per-person basis.

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