Getting Around Greener: Part 3

About this series: As a BTG supporter, you understand that our transportation choices have tremendous ecological impacts, but you may not be aware of the latest innovations and improvements in your options. With this series, we hope to help you find new ways to both lower your individual impact now and move us all toward a sustainable transportation system ASAP. Please send us any additional suggestions you have.

In Part 1, we looked at options for getting around without a car at least some of the time as well as how some of us may even be able to avoid owning a car entirely.

In Part 2, we looked at how to drive greener when you do and what to consider when trying to decide whether to keep your current car or buy a new one.

Now, in Part 3, we consider the impacts of driving a plug-in car.

Within the last six years, major automakers have begun offering both plug-in hybrid and battery-electric cars. At first glance, these seem like the greenest choices because a plug-in hybrid could allow you to burn a lot less gasoline while an electric car wouldn’t use any gasoline at all. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple when it comes to the impact on the climate.

If you have to use traditional electricity to charge your new car, you’d be better off buying a high-MPG gasoline-electric hybrid because most of our regional electric grid is reliant on low-efficient, high-polluting coal fired power plants. The greenest option is to purchase an electric car and enough solar panels to charge it. Three independent studies have come to this same basic conclusion (you can read about them here, here, and here).

The most recent of these studies, “Cleaner Cars from Cradle to Grave (2015)” by the Union of Concerned Scientists, concludes that an electric car with average efficiency charged from our grid would produce global warming pollution equivalent to a gasoline-powered car getting 35 MPG Combined City/Highway. Unfortunately, our grid tied with the Rocky Mountain Power Area grid to the west for being the worst grid in the country to charge an electric car.

While only a couple small conventional cars exceed 35 MPG Combined, as of now there are sixteen hybrid models available as new cars (and more available used) that are rated to get more than 35 MPG Combined, including not only hatchbacks like the iconic Prius, but midsize family sedans and premium/luxury cars, with more on the way.

Hybrid Cars Rated Above 35 MPG Combined City/Highway

Make/Model                                        EPA City/Highway/Combined Fuel Economy Rating (all 2017 model year)
Chevy Malibu Hybrid                                       49/43/46
Ford C-Max Hybrid                                         42/38/40
Ford Fusion Hybrid                                        43/41/42
Honda Accord Hybrid                                      49/47/48
Hyundai Ioniq                                                  55/54/55 or 57/59/58 (Blue version)
Hyundai Sonata Hybrid                                    38/43/40
Kia Niro                                                           51/46/49 or 52/49/50 (FE version)
Kia Optima Hybrid                                            39/46/42
Lexus CT 200h                                                43/40/42
Lexus ES 300h                                                40/39/40
Lincoln MKZ Hybrid                                          41/38/40
Toyota Avalon Hybrid                                       40/39/40
Toyota Camry Hybrid                                        42/38/40 (LE) or 40/37/38 (XLE/SE)
Toyota Prius                                                     54/50/52 or 58/53/56 (Eco version)
Toyota Prius c                                                  48/43/46
Toyota Prius v                                                  43/39/41

Unfortunately, none of the hybrid crossovers on the market exceeds the 35 MPG threshold, but if you genuinely need all-wheel drive capability and a higher ride-height, we explored those options in an earlier post, “High-Ridin’, All-Wheelin’ Hybrids.”The gist of all this is that switching from virtually any conventional car you now drive to an electric car will reduce the global warming pollution you produce, but switching to a high-MPG hybrid will reduce it even more – and the higher, the better.

In Part 4, we’ll delve deeper into the challenge of fully electrifying our car culture.