WASHINGTON — Smart's all-electric two-seater won top honors for the second consecutive year in the annual plug-in-heavy "greenest" cars rating published today by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.
The widely viewed ranking of all models on sale in the U.S. is in its 18th year. While the greenest vehicles list for 2015 continues to be dominated by hybrids and battery-electric cars, a companion "greener choices" rating shows that there are plenty of conventional petroleum-fueled models for those seeking fuel efficiency and environmental friendliness in their next vehicle.
And though the list of greenest vehicles hasn't changed much from last year's rankings, there are two new features in the council's 2015 report. Online access to the full report, going back to the 2000 model year, is free for the first time. And there now is a downloadable tool enabling shoppers to see region-specific green scores for electric cars based on each region's mix of electricity sourced from coal, natural gas, solar energy and nuclear and wind power.
In the greenest vehicles listing for 2015 models, battery-electrics such as the Smart Fortwo ED dominate with four of the top five rankings. The 2015 Prius Plug-In hybrid from Toyota was 6th — in a tie with the standard 2015 Prius hybrid.
Domestic brands were poorly represented in the top rankings, with only the 2nd-place 2015 Spark EV from Chevrolet and Ford's 12th-ranked 2015 Focus EV scoring well enough on the ACEE's 100-point scale to make the grade. There were no domestic brands in the top rankings last year.
Once again, the all-electric Tesla Model S — perhaps the nation's most visible electric car — finished well down in the rankings, due to a ratings system that penalizes for vehicle and battery weight. The overall emissions charged against the 5,000-pound car — a weight that includes 1,000 pounds of battery — leave both the 85 kilowatt-hour and 60 kwh versions of the Model S in the middle of the pack.
While it is the ACEEE rating for "greenest" car that typically makes the headlines, the group also offers ratings by vehicle class to give consumers a more market-friendly "greener cars" listing. It showcases widely sold vehicles such as SUVs and pickups that typically don't do well when scored against EVs, most of which are only available in a few states. You can find the rankings by vehicle category, as well as the 2015 "greenest" and "meanest" vehicle listings on the ACEEE's Greenercars.org Web site.
The ratings are based on a weighted score of 0-100. The Smart ED was the highest ranked at 61 points, the 2015 Ram 2500 heavy-duty diesel pickup from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles was lowest with 17 points.
The scores are derived from federal emissions and fuel efficiency ratings, and government and industry formulas for computing emissions at the factory. Also factored into the scores are the public health costs of tailpipe emissions, the impact of recycling and disposing of vehicle components including batteries, and the upstream impact of fuel production, including electricity. For hybrids and EVs, the environmental impact of battery materials production is also a factor.
Many of the leading green scores were ties, but the ACEEE ranks vehicles according to the weight given each component of their total score. So while several vehicles in the top 12 had the same scores, the 59-point Fiat 500e was ranked 3rd, for instance, although its total score was identical to the 2nd-place Chevrolet Spark EV's 59 points.
Rounding out the top 12 were the 4th place 2015 Prius C and 5th place 2015 Leaf EV from Nissan, each with 57 points, followed by six models with 54 points each, and the Ford Focus Electric in 11th position and the 2015 Jetta Hybrid from Volkswagen in 12th place, each with 53 points.
The models with 54 points, and their rankings, were the Prius hybrid and Prius Plug-In hybrid tied for 6th; the 7th-place 2015 CT 200H hybrid from Lexus, the 2015 Honda Civic Hybrid in 8th, Honda's 2015 Civic Natural Gas in 9th place, and the 2015 Mitsubishi Mirage in 10th.
Among the "greener choices" with conventional gasoline engines were the 2015 Ford F-150 pickup with 2.7-liter V6, ranked tops among standard pickups; the 2015 Chevrolet Colorado and its GMC sibling, the 2015 Canyon, heading the midsize pickup rankings, both with the base 2.5-liter engine-automatic transmission package; the 2015 Nissan Quest minivan, and the 2015 Chevrolet Trax midsize SUV.
Separately, the University of Michigan's monthly report on new-car fuel efficiency shows that the EPA-rated combined city/highway fuel efficiency of all new cars and truck sold in the U.S. during January was up 0.3 mpg from December for an average of 25.4 mpg.
That's up from an average of 20.1 mpg when the university's Transportation Research Institute began monitoring monthly fuel efficiency.
Edmunds says: "Greener Cars" can be a valuable tool for consumers concerned about the environmental impact of their vehicles, and the availability of ratings back through the 2000 model year should be a boon for used-car shoppers.