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  • Going Green to Save Green

    Posted on September 15th, 2008 ninarussin

    By Nina Russin

    Honda eco assist system

    Honda eco assist system

    The recent hike in gas prices has made drivers think seriously about limited oil resources. New car technology–including gasoline/electric hybrids, electric cars, clean diesel and fuel cells–not only promises to stretch existing oil reserves; they reduce the amount of harmful exhaust emissions in the air we breathe.

    As athletes, we’re especially aware of the importance of clean air: it’s essential to our way of life. But do the new generation of green cars help us preserve our limited financial resources as well?

    Cost of Going Green

    The fact is that green car technology costs money. Many gasoline/electric hybrids, such as the Toyota Highlander Hybrid and Lexus 400h, cost significantly more than gas-powered equivalents.
     
    The Toyota Highlander Hybrid has a base sticker price of $34,200, versus $27,500 for the gasoline model. The Lexus RX350 sport-utility vehicle starts at $37,700, as opposed to $41,580 for the 400h.

    Not only do buyers pay a premium for the hybrid technology: these hybrids are only available as fully-loaded cars, adding to the base sticker price.

    Clean diesel has been popular in Europe for some time: the low-sulfur fuel wasn’t available in the U.S. until last year. As a result, there’s less of a price difference between clean diesel models sold in America and their gas-powered cousins.

    For example, Mercedes-Benz BlueTEC models cost a little more than base gas-powered models, but are less expensive than 4matic all-wheel drive grades. The base M-Class starts at $44,875 as opposed to $45,875 for the BlueTEC clean diesel, while the 4matic version costs $53,625.

    Diesel cars average twenty-five to thirty percent better fuel economy than comparable gasoline models, but the diesel is more expensive. At the beginning of July, 2008, the national average for a gallon of diesel was $4.70, versus $4.06 for a gallon of unleaded regular gasoline, according to the Energy Information Administration.

    There are a couple of reasons for this: limited demand here in the States, and subsidies in foreign countries that increase demand for diesel internationally.

    Avoiding the Fuel Pump

    Electric cars require no gasoline, but buyers need to install recharging devices at home. The other limitation is driving range, which is shorter than for gasoline cars. The new Chevy Volt has a range of 64 kilometers: about 40 miles.

    Engineers plan to introduce an on-board generator to recharge the Volt’s battery pack on the go: no word yet as to whether that generator will be standard equipment on the car.

    Fitting Technology to the Driver

    Having mentioned some hidden costs in going green, the question remains: is there any cost benefit? The answer is ‘yes’, if the driver chooses technology according to his needs.

    Hybrid cars are most beneficial for people who drive in crowded urban areas. On most hybrids, the gasoline engine shuts off at idle while electric motors run the accessories. Some hybrids can also run on electric power at low speeds: the Chevy Tahoe and Dodge Durango hybrids are two examples.

    Hybrid fuel economy in stop-and-go driving is significantly better than for gasoline cars. The Toyota Highlander Hybrid averages 27 miles-per-gallon in the city, as compared to 18 miles-per-gallon for the gasoline model. The Toyota Camry Hybrid gets 33 miles-per-gallon in the city, compared to 21 mpg for the four-cylinder gas car, and 19 mpg for the V6.

    While these cars also get excellent fuel economy on the highway, the advantage over gasoline models is not as significant. The exception is the Toyota Prius: it averages 45 miles-per-gallon on the highway, and has better overall fuel economy than any other Toyota model.

    Diesel for Any Driving Situation

    Drivers who spend most of their time on the highway should consider clean diesel. Diesel fuel economy gains are consistent for both city and highway driving, and are big enough to more than offset higher fuel costs.
    The bigger the car, the bigger the benefits. The full-sized Mercedes-Benz GL320 sport-utility vehicle averages 17/23 mpg city/highway when equipped with the clean diesel engine, versus 13/18 for the gas-powered model. The smaller M-Class sport-utility vehicle gets 23/32 mpg with the diesel engine, compared to 13/18 mpg for the gasoline model.

    Chrysler offers a V6 diesel engine on the Grand Cherokee sport-utility vehicle: it averages 18/23 mpg city highway. The Grand Cherokee with a gasoline-powered V6 averages 15/20 mpg city and highway; the V8 gas engine averages 13/19 mpg.

    Tax Credits

    The Energy Policy Act of 2005 rewards buyers of hybrid, fuel cell and alternative fuel vehicles with a tax credit, ranging from $250- $3400, depending on the vehicle’s weight and fuel economy. But there’s a catch: the tax credit disappears in stages after the automaker sells 60,000 units of a particular model.

    Future Prius buyers are out of luck. But shoppers considering the new VW Jetta TDI may save some money come tax time. A good source of information on federal tax credits is Edmunds.com’s Green Car Advisor.

    Small Carbon Footprints

    Buyers who can’t afford a hybrid or clean diesel can still go green and save gas by driving a smaller car. The Nissan Versa, Scion xD, Kia Rio, Suzuki SX4, Volkswagen Rabbit and smartfortwo all have MSRPs under $16,000, and all average 30 mpg or better on the highway. Cars that use less gas pollute less: it’s as simple as that.

    Do the Math

    Despite a recent drop in the cost of fuel, the general trend in the future will be towards more expensive gas. The myriad of green car options gives buyers with different budgets and lifestyle needs the ability to minimize their fuel expenditures, and do something good for the environment at the same time.

    New car shopping is all about doing the math: green cars are no exception. One place to start is by creating a log to record important information about current driving habits, including average annual mileage, and city versus highway driving. Keep track of the number of passengers who typically share the car to see if downsizing is a possibility.

    Buyers considering alternative fuels need to make sure that their local infrastructure supports those types of vehicles. Clean diesel is widely available, but supplies of biodiesel and E-85 are more limited.

    Find out whether any of the cars on the short list qualify for a federal tax credit. And don’t forget to factor in the trade-in value of the current car. Kelley Blue Book is a reliable source of information on resale values. Edmunds has a tool to help big truck owners determine how much it will cost to go green.

     

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