Evaluating options for an efficient clean green car

I have over 100,000 miles on my Saturn Aura, and I'm beginning to look at a replacement.  Unfortunately, there aren't as many options for a new clean driving car as I would have hoped.  I would love to get an electric vehicle, but my job is in outside sales, and it requires me to drive large distances, often over 100 miles per day.  Therefore the limited range of EVs would require that I stop every 40 miles or so to charge up, which would severely reduce my sales numbers!

My goal is to find a car that gets excellent mileage for the following reasons (in rough order of importance to me, but the order changes frequently):

  1. I want to reduce my consumption of foreign oil
  2. I want to reduce the amount of money I spend on transportation
  3. I want to help improve my local air quality by reducing emissions
  4. I want to lower my greenhouse gas emissions

I also want to find a car that I look forward to driving every day.  I will drive anywhere between 25,000 and 30,000 a year, and the car is basically my office, so I need to have something that I enjoy.

I really, really want a plug-in hybrid vehicle.  A plug-in hybrid would meet all the above requirements for getting excellent mileage but I would also get to monitor how much electricity I use in my car with my whole-home electricity monitoring system!  The issue here is that there is currently only one plug-in hybrid vehicle available for purchase, the Chevrolet Volt.  It isn't even available for purchase in my state, so I would have to go to another state to buy it and drive it back.  Another challenge is initial price, which may be slightly out of my range.  There are other plug-in hybrids about to come on the market, like Ford's C-Max plug in hybrid, but they haven't announced an official release date, and they may not even be available in my market until 2013.  Toyota is coming out with a plug-in Prius in 2012 in limited markets, but won't be available in Atlanta until 2013.

So maybe I need to table my initial requirement of a plug-in hybrid?  Instead, I'm willing to look at regular hybrids and efficient diesel cars that I could possibly run on bio-diesel.  Both of these options would help meet my four criteria above.

I like most hybrids, but for the most part the styling on most of them has never really appealed to me...until now.  This weekend I saw the Lexus CT 200h, and it's a hybrid that actually looks like a car I would enjoy driving.  Also, according to, it gets the second best mileage out of all 2011 model year hybrids!  My in-laws just purchased the Hyundai Sonata hybrid, and it actually looks really nice.  I may consider the Ford Fusion hybrid, but it is priced similar to the Lexus and doesn't look near as nice.  If I did get a hybrid, I could always convert it to a plug-in hybrid!

Of course, I don't have to get a hybrid; I could get an efficient diesel vehicle.  The German auto manufacturers take the lead in this area.  An efficient diesel would accomplish close to what the hybrid would as far as my four requirements, but diesel currently costs a little more than gasoline and diesel air emissions are a little worse than normal gasoline.  Why aren't there any diesel hybrids available?

But there is another option I would have with diesel that would completely satisfy my number 1 requirement: running the car on bio-diesel!  The challenge here is that it seems that each manufacturer has different standards on whether using bio-diesel in your vehicle will void the warranty.  This site from the U.K. has some good information on running your vehicle on bio-diesel.  It seems that if I went this option, I would have to modify a few of the vehicle's parts to have everything running smoothly.

I have a lot to consider here and I'm open to all of your thoughts.  What criteria do you have in evaluating your clean car options?


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I recently rented a small (very)Spanish diesel in Barcelona. When I went to refuel, there was a No-Biodiesel sticker on the gas cap, so your concern is a valid one. I think the ultimate ideal with a hybrid is to be able to use solar to economically provide the plug-in portion.
Call me a renegade but why buy a new car? Don't let the mileage scare you if you have serviced it regularly. Find a good mechanic who believes in keeping an old car running and have them go over it. For a couple of thousand dollars you can have the old car reconditioned. When the engine or transmission starts to wear out, you can replace them both with reconditioned parts for a lot less than a new car. Maaco will even put a factory new paint job on it for a reasonable price. Here's my logic. If you properly maintain a car and keep the emissions system in good shape, you'll use up less carbon by keeping your old car than buying a new one. If you keep reconditioning your old car until the parts are obsolete, you'll prevent using more resources to build a new car. Chris, I know you do a lot of car travel for your job so you may be in an unusual position where keeping an old car could be risky. (if a part wears out and it konks out on the side of the road) However, for most folks, we should get in the habit of fixing our old car instead of buying a new one. I have too many cars but here is an example of our daily drivers and keeping old cars running: 1999.5 VW Jetta GL TDI Diesel 266k miles 1999.5 VW Jetta GLS TDI Diesel 302k miles 2000 Club Car 48V Electric Golf Cart ?? miles I have other vehicles that are under reconstruction/conversion or stay parked but the Jettas and the golf cart see most of the driving due to fuel mileage. All of the non-EVs run on biodiesel ranging from B20-B100 depending on time of year.
I have a 2004 Prius and I love it. It is my daily driver and easily holds three kids in car seats and the cargo area is quite large. I also have the 4 kWh Enginer plugin conversion. You may want to look into the upcoming Prius v? It is larger than the regular Prius and gets slightly less MPG.
Why does everyone immediately think "Prius" when it comes to efficient, clean hybrids? We've had the 2 seater Honda Insight for 10 years. It is ULEV rated and originally got over 65MPG, now - even with a new battery bank (replaced under warranty at 105K miles) it gets 57MPG average. But they discontinued that model in '06 and brought out the 4 seater that looks almost identical to the Prius and it's about the same price too. See if the local Honda dealers have them - it's a darned nice vehicle. We're planning on getting the Chevy Volt when it becomes available next year. But to be able to afford it, we'll take the $350/month 3 year lease option that GM is offering. Maybe the price will drop a bit by the time we get one as they ramp up US production of the battery bank - hopefully. BTW the reason vehicles are getting lower MPGs over time is due to the ethanol that is being added. I wish we still got 65MPG in the Insight!
ckmapawatt's picture
I thought about the <a href="" rel="nofollow">leasing the Volt (which we wrote about here)</a>, but I don't think it would be possible with the amount of miles I drive? I will have to get with a Chevy dealer and verify that. That would be a nice option to evaluate how I like a plug-in. I would probably wait to install a <a href="" rel="nofollow">240-V charging station</a> until I purchased one though. The reason everyone thinks "Prius" instead of "Insight" is pure marketing by Toyota!
Well they are fairly different cars, no? From what I've heard, the Prius is squishier than I'd like, and the Insight is rougher than I'd like. :) I just haven't heard great things about the Insight, but I really do like Honda, and think they do better overall at being "green" - the UCS thinks so too: The Prius does get better MPG ratings from the EPA, though.
ckmapawatt's picture
What about the Lexus I mentioned! It looks like it gets better mileage than the Insight and it looks much better! Of course it's probably a little bit pricier...
Sure, if you're made of money, buy a Lexus! I may have to try my hand at this energy-blogging thing if you get to drive a Lexus... :) But the prius is still the hands-down fuel economy winner, I think...
I like the idea of converting a Prius to a plug-in hybrid, though usually those conversions don't give you very many electric-only miles at all. I'm actually rethinking my previous assumption that EVs are The One True Answer to Carbon Reduction for Transportation. My latest thinking is that a Prius may be the better way to go overall, and even if you have solar panels to charge an EV, you'd be better off offsetting coal (by feeding to the grid) than offsetting oil (by charging your EV). Of course many factors apply... will try to do a blog post on this soon. At this point, if I were in the market for a car to do more than city driving, I'd go with the Prius, I think. The new ones even look semi-cool!

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