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So You Think You're "Green"? You Probably Drive One of These Cars

Photo credit: Flickr/Autoviva.

We can tell a lot about a person based on what kind of car he or she drives. If someone rolls by in a minivan, we safely assume that family is important to that person. Meanwhile, the bright red sports car that just zoomed past typically suggests its owner is a risk taker and maybe even a bit showy. On the other hand, seeing a Toyota  (NYSE: TM  )  Prius C motor by says just one thing about the driver. That person has gone green. 

The carbon dilemma
Being green is pretty hip these days. It's a title that brings with it an air of sophistication. It suggests the person is more aware of the direct impact he or she has on the environment. However, it's a title one cannot easily obtain without driving a green car. 

Each gallon of gasoline we burn typically spews 20 pounds of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. That's roughly 5 to 9 tons of carbon dioxide each year for a typical vehicle. On the other hand, a switch to a more fuel-efficient vehicle can really slash those emissions. 

Take, for example, a gas guzzler that gets 15 miles per gallon. It will unleash 11.7 tons of carbon dioxide each year. On the other hand, a fuel sipper that gets 45 miles per gallon will release only 3.9 tons of carbon dioxide each year. That's a big difference.

The difference is almost as large when looking at the average new car. According to the EPA, the average new car sold last year achieved only about 23 MPG. There is a compelling case to be made that being average isn't good enough. That's especially true when considering that owning a green car can mean its owner has slashed the carbon footprint of his or her vehicle nearly in half. 

So you call yourself green
So if somebody wants to be considered "green," that person really should drive one of the greenest cars on the market. Leaving out electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, here's the current list of the top 10 most fuel-efficient cars in America, rated by a combination of affordability and fuel economy. 

  • Toyota Prius C: 50 MPG combined
  • Toyota Prius: 50 MPG combined
  • Toyota Camry Hybrid: 41 MPG combined
  • Honda  (NYSE: HMC  )  Insight Hybrid: 42 MPG combined
  • Lexus CT 200h: 42 MPG combined
  • Honda Civic Hybrid: 44 MPG combined
  • Ford  (NYSE: F  )  C-Max Hybrid: 47 MPG combined
  • Toyota Prius V: 42 MPG combined
  • Volkswagen Jetta Hybrid: 45 MPG combined
  • Lincoln MKZ Hybrid: 45 MPG combined

Toyota clearly dominates that list, as its holds half of the top 10 spots if we include Lexus. Meanwhile, Honda and Ford both claim two spots. All three automakers have made headlines for making affordable green cars, so it's no surprise to see this list dominated by those three automakers. 

Final thoughts
A recent study found that if all Americans were to drive green cars in the future, we could slash our greenhouse emissions from driving by 80% by 2050. That could lead to a more than 10% overall reduction in U.S emissions, as consumer-driven autos currently represent 17% of the nation's emissions. So the next time someone claims to have "gone green," make sure the car that person drives backs up the claim. 

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Read/Post Comments (5) | Recommend This Article (0)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 11:06 AM, GreenSavant1 wrote:

    Publishing wrong information when posing as an "Expert" is irresponsible, misleading, and unfair to the other car models that did not have to re-adjust their EPA claimed mileage:.

    Ford tried to market the C Max as the "Prius Killer", but it was premature hype. It would not achieve the claimed 47/47/47 mpg, and Ford ended up de-rating the C Max to 45 City, 40 Highway, and 43 combined.

    Additionally, Ford is making a "goodwill" restitution payment of $550 to C Max owners.

    This vehicle should be re-named the "C Min", and is misrepresented in this article.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 11:17 AM, Funquang wrote:

    There is NOTHING "green" about these cars! Go to China where the battery metals are mined to see first hand the environmental damage is killing its inhabitants from toxic exposure.

    You want to drive a "green" car, then you better be buying a used one. The older and more previous owners the better.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 12:52 PM, SierraSheltie wrote:

    There is no man made climate change. The Head of the EPA last week in a Senate hearing was asked if her Department has any proof of global temp increase over the last 10 years. Her answer after 5 minutes of obfuscation was No I do not know of any increase in global temperature over the past 10 years. The Term Green House Gasses is a Propaganda tool. There is no proof that CO2 is the cause of any planetary warming in the entire Solar System. James Lovelock last year in an interview that he was a bit overly HYSTERICAL about his paper in the 90s on Carbon's effect on the climate.

    One more chestnut for you Man Made Climate fanatics to mull over you mead.

    We live in an era of Carbon Dioxide Impoverishment. The Earth has only seen levels this low only twice in it's 4.5 billion year history. The beginning of the Triassic the CO2 was 1700 ppm and the average global temp was only 3 degrees C from today's average. That temp would be just like it was back between 6,000 bce to 1000 ce. The end of the first millennium was the beginning of global cooling for the past 1000 years.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 8:34 PM, PsiKick wrote:

    I drive a corvette, eat meat and enjoy the materialistic lifestyle but I know I'm green no matter what I do. I don't have any kids.

  • Report this Comment On January 26, 2014, at 10:05 PM, lth1976 wrote:

    @SierraSheltie... nice gish gallop of denier garbage there. As is you toss together a lot of mixed up factoids underscored by a painfully obvious lack of understanding of how and why. Go find a middle school student and have them explain the basic science to you.

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Matt DiLallo

Matthew is a Senior Energy and Materials Specialist with The Motley Fool. He graduated from the Liberty University with a degree in Biblical Studies and a Masters of Business Administration. You can follow him on Twitter for the latest news and analysis of the energy and materials industries:

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