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Gas Vehicles Top Rankings in the 2001 'Green Book'

February 14, 2001|JOHN O'DELL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

For the first time since it began publishing in 1998, the country's preeminent guide to environmentally friendly passengers cars and trucks does not place an electric vehicle at the head of the list.

Indeed, the just-released 2001 "Green Book" rates only two electrics--down from six last year--because of the auto industry's decision to drop work on most battery-powered vehicles in favor of other zero-emission technologies, such as fuel cells, that are years from fruition.

So the "greenest" passenger vehicle obtainable today is no longer General Motors Corp.'s sleek two-seat EV1 electric sports coupe.

Instead, the two-seat Honda Insight hybrid (which uses a small gasoline engine boosted by an electric motor) and the more mainstream Honda Civic GX (a natural gas-fueled twin of the gasoline-powered Civic) tie for honors as the most environmentally friendly vehicles available in the United States.

"The whole picture of green-ness has changed because this year 10 of the 13 cleanest vehicles are gasoline-powered," says "Green Book" coauthor John DeCicco.

Last year, six of the 12 vehicles on the "greenest" list were electrics with zero tailpipe emissions.

The green guide, published by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, is an attempt by the 21-year-old nonprofit group to give consumers the information they need to seek out the cleanest vehicles that suit their requirements, DeCicco says.

To that end, it rates nearly 350 current cars and light trucks, assigning each a score based on such factors as tailpipe emissions, especially the greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming; fuel efficiency; pollutants and greenhouse gases generated in the manufacturing process.

One other factor that is used in rating the vehicles is a calculation made to estimate the effects on health costs in the United States for treating lung or other pollution-related diseases.

The top score of 100, although theoretically possible, has never been reached.

The highest score ever awarded was 57 points, given last year to the EV1, production of which has been suspended by General Motors.

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Despite achieving green scores of 53 this year, a Civic or Insight might not be what you need.

But if you are looking for a hefty sport-utility vehicle, the guide lets you know that the Ford Expedition--which scores a 17 when equipped with two-wheel drive and the smaller of two engine options, the 4.6-liter V-8--is the greenest of that class.

How about a small station wagon? The Saturn SW with a 1.9-liter four-cylinder engine and manual transmission gets a class-leading score of 35.

And the new generation of car-truck blends, or "crossovers," such as the Toyota Highlander and Ford Escape, are proving to be greener choices than the similar-size sport-utilities with which they compete.

The crossovers feature SUV-like styling but share platforms with passenger cars and thus are lighter and more fuel-efficient than true SUVs.

For 2001, DeCicco says, the guide contains more low-emissions vehicles, or LEVs, than ever before. That is in large part because of California's aggressive push to require manufacturers to improve the emissions systems on their vehicles.

Still, many of the greenest cars and trucks on the market are available only in California and a handful of other states, led by New York, that have opted to copy California's emissions standards rather than the more lenient federal rules.

"And with the recently modified California ZEV program, it is likely that Californians will continue seeing the greenest cars sooner than the rest of nation," says Roland Hwang, a transportation specialist with the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The 2001 "Green Book" is available at selected bookstores at a suggested price of $8.95, or through ACEEE's Web site at http://www.greenercars.com.

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Times staff writer John O'Dell covers the auto industry for Highway 1 and the Business section. He can be reached at john.odell@latimes.com.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

It's Easy Being Green

The new "Green Book" rates 13 vehicles, 10 with conventional gasoline engines, as the greenest in the U.S. No large SUVs or pickups made the list.

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Emission Green Make/Model Engine Rating Score Honda Civic GX (nat. gas) 1.7L SULEV 53 Honda Insight (gas/elect.) 1.0L ULEV 53 Toyota Prius (gas/elect.) 1.5L ULEV 51 Toyota RAV4-Electric ZEV 47 Toyota Camry (nat. gas) 2.2L ULEV 42 Suzuki Swift 1.4L LEV 42 Honda Civic HX 1.7L ULEV 42 Toyota Echo 1.5L LEV 41 Nissan Sentra CA 1.8L SULEV 40 Honda Civic 1.7L ULEV 39 Mitsubishi Mirage 1.5L LEV 39 Toyota Corolla/ Chevrolet Prizm 1.8L LEV 39

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