- Hyundai's fuel economy improvements earn it the title Honda had held for the past 14 years.
- Smog-forming emissions from passenger cars sold in the U.S. are down 87 percent since the first ranking in 2000; greenhouse gas emissions have dropped by almost 20 percent.
- Ford is the "greenest" of the Detroit automakers.
WASHINGTON — Hyundai Motor Co. has toppled Honda from its perennial roost at the top of a tally of the nation's "greenest "automakers, compiled by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
The rankings, which have been issued six times since 2000, don't mean Honda has slipped. In fact, its cars and trucks are more efficient and less polluting now than ever before. Instead, the ratings show that Hyundai, and other car companies, are improving more rapidly, said David Cook, an analyst with the environmental group's Clean Vehicles Program.
The traditional U.S. automakers (Ford, General Motors and Chrysler) finished at the bottom, as they have in each of the rankings, but continued to show substantial improvement. Reliance on large pickups and SUVs puts them at a disadvantage.
On the plus side, Ford's growing use of turbocharged four-cylinder engines helped it post the greatest reduction in greenhouse gas emissions among the eight rated car companies.
Toyota, Nissan and Volkswagen all scored within a few decimal points of one another, leading Cook, author of the "Greenest Automaker" report, to declare them tied for 3rd. Ford was next, followed by GM, with Chrysler hanging onto the bottom slot it has held in every one of the UCS rankings.
Carmakers' scores were based on the 2013 EPA-rated fuel economy of their combined car and truck fleets and the tailpipe emissions those vehicles generate by burning fossil fuels.
Only the eight largest automakers — by volume — are ranked. That leaves innovators such as Tesla Motors, with its all-electric fleet, out of the running.
The major volume sellers were selected, said Cook, because collectively they build 90 percent of the passenger vehicles sold in the U.S., and their vehicles account for 92 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted by the nation's 2013 model year passenger vehicle fleet.
The title shows that Hyundai's drive to boost its vehicles' fuel economy has paid off, giving car shoppers even more choices in the fuel efficiency segment.
The company's emphasis on four-cylinder engines, which are inherently less thirsty than larger motors, as well as the sales of its gas-electric hybrids, helped boost it past Honda, Cook said. Hyundai's Kia motors subsidiary was considered part of the company for purposes of the rankings.
Heavy emphasis on V6 engines for its Honda and Acura brand midsize cars and SUVs, particularly the popular Honda Accord, hurt Honda this year, said Cook. Otherwise, the automaker continues to lead the industry for fuel economy and emissions reductions in many vehicle segments.
For the number crunchers out there, the UCS ratings are based on deviance from a theoretical industry average of 100.
Hyundai's score of 86.4 points means its Hyundai-Kia fleet was 15.6 percent cleaner than the average. The company scored an 87 in 2010, the last time the ratings were released.
Honda placed 2nd with 90.2 points, 9.8 percent cleaner than average. It topped the 2010 rankings with 86 points.
The remaining six finishers and their 2013 and 2010 points, are:
Toyota, 92.2 (87); Nissan, 92.6 (93); Volkswagen, 92.2 (90); Ford, 104.5 (108); General Motors, 109.9 (109); Chrysler, 114.9 (113).
Edmunds says: With ever-increasng federal fuel economy standards, look for even cleaner cars in the years to come — meaning less pollution, easier shopping for "green" choices at the dealership and fewer costly trips to the gas station.