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November 05, 2012

Green Cars Are Winning the Year

Electricvehicle-plugSo far in 2012, vehicle fuel economy has hit a record high, as have sales for hybrids and plug-in vehicles -- according to an analysis released by our friends over at NRDC. They're calling 2012 "The Year of the Green Car."

But getting to marking 2012 as the first Year of the Green Car took some doing -- or really some undoing of 30 years of inaction on improving the fuel efficiency of new vehicles.  

So, what's this winning record-high fuel economy number?  23.6 mpg. Due to a quirk, or rather, an outdated testing system, in standards terms this means that vehicles sold in 2012 averaged around 29 mpg (to learn more about this issue, check out our report on testing and standards [PDF]) -- on the way to 35.5 mpg  in 2016. This is good news for our rapidly changing climate, too, as vehicles will also be meeting a new greenhouse gas standard of 250 grams of carbon pollution per mile of in 2016.

It is important to remember that model year 2012 vehicles are the first to be sold under the Obama Administration's historic fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards. New standards were in place for 2011 vehicles as well, so we are seeing the start of what should be continued progress through 2025, when this administration's full program is phased in. Then we can look forward to celebrating new vehicles that average 54.5 mpg and emit half the carbon pollution.  

What all this means is that consumers hitting dealer lots have much better choices across the board -- and they are making those better choices, as the analysis behind NRDC's announcement shows.

Additionally, this is not just about small cars getting better mileage: It is important to flag, as NRDC's Luke Tonachel did, that plug-ins are on the way to selling 50,000 vehicles in 2012 and in some cases, despite what the critics say, outselling other vehicles:
(T)he Chevy Volt outsells about half of all U.S. vehicle models available. Among the vehicles it beats are the Audi A3, A5 and A6, the Nissan Xterra and Titan, and several Mercedes and Porsche models. I don't remember seeing them trotted out as market losers.

The fact is that October sales of plug-ins were strong. My vote is that Plug-In Day had its impact with an estimated 25,000 people joining in events to talk to owners of plug-ins like the VOLT and LEAF and test drive a range of vehicles. Green cars are fueling the new vehicles market and consumers are the better for it -- using less oil, saving at the pump and spewing out less global warming pollution -- a must.

All this talk about green cars, technology and standards raises a question about whether our neighbors the north (Canada) and to the South (Mexico) can similarly look forward to more efficiency vehicles. For Canada, the answer is yes as their standards are harmonized with ours. 

Yet in Mexico it seems that one auto company, Toyota -- the maker of the market leading Prius hybrid -- wants to stand in the way of Mexico adopting standards that would ensure new vehicles in 2016 meet the same fuel economy standards that new cars sold in the U.S. will be meeting. 

My colleagues and Union of Concerned Scientists and Natural Resources Defense Council report that Toyota made a surprise move to disrupt Mexico's standard setting process with a lawsuit.

Interestingly, NRDC's blog calls this a "man bites dog" story which reminds me that dogs always belong in the car not ON the car. For a reminder of someone with a differing view on this matter, check out this video we shared over the summer:

If you're interested in learning about green cars available now, this month's issue of Sierra magazine has an excellent EV Buyer’s Guide.

-- Ann Mesnikoff, Director of the Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign


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