It's not easy to find a truly low-emission car but I'm trying and learning a lot in the process. Right now we have one Prius, one Volvo stationwagon, and one BMW 3 series. I went to the Fuel Economy site the government has put up and calculated how much we pollute and emit greenhouse gases. It's a great site that lists cars from all makes and years. Here's our breakdown on an annual basis:
99 Volvo V70 Average MPG 21, 8.9 tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions
07 BMW 330, Average MPG 23 8.1 tons of co2 greenhouse gas emissions
01 Prius, Average MPG 48 3.8 tons of CO2 greenhouse gas emissions
So as MPG goes up, CO2 emissions goes down! Duh... one hiccup in this calculation is that the cars don't actually get the mileage that they say they get. My Volvo gets 19 MPG. The Prius gets around 40 MPG.
The government in the next year is instituting new regulations which will force car companies to supply more realistic MPG numbers. In any case, the Prius is the best option on the market right now and will reduce my car emissions by more than half if I purchase it. So happens there is a special going on with Prius's right now also because they have surplus inventory.
What struck me in going through the Fuel Economy site is how few good options there are. Most of the new hybrids coming out are being used to make more powerful, faster cars which already get terrible gas mileage. And then with hybrids, your actual mileage is actually much higher than what they say it will be. For example, the Toyota Highlander SUV hybrid actually gets about 19 MPG when I spoke to my friends who have it. But the calculations are based on a much higher MPG. So the actual amount the Highlander pollutes is about the same as the Volvo, though it does much better on the Particulate matter/smog front. Better options are small, non-hybrid, compact cars like Yaris or Scion or VW beetles. But these don't work so well for my family. My first choice was to buy a diesel but there are so few on the market it's tough to find a good option. I wanted to get a Passat wagon TDI AWD but they don't make them. I've read that many new, very clean diesel models will be introduced in 2008. This is encouraging and probably the best option for saving the planet.
The one station wagon that was significantly better than the Volvo was the Subaru Legacy AWD. It emits 7.1 tons of CO2 a year. That's a 20% drop from what my Volvo pollutes. So this is a car I will check out. It may be that I end up buying two cars. A new Prius to replace our old one. And a Subaru. This is the closest I can get today to meeting my criteria among new cars available in the USA. The real sad fact is the best, most fuel-efficient cars are not sold in the US. The carmakers make them but they sell them in the rest of the world. Here, they only import their gas guzzling more expensive models. It's sad Americans who are the biggest spenders in the world, don't have the best choices because of regulations and the quest for profits. So perhaps my best option is to wait. Bottomline, what I really need to do, is reduce the amount I drive. Of course flying less is a big plus also. That is the worst. So maybe we'll take a driving vacation this summer instead of flying to some faraway place.
Some Green Living/car sites worth checking out:
Treehugger: this site is all about living green and has a special section on cars and transportation. I even found some fashionable shoes I liked on this site!
Grist: funny and smart environmental coverage. And based in Seattle.