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4 new models make list of 12 most environmentally friendly

February 06, 2007|John O'Dell | Times Staff Writer

Kermit the Frog may have been right about the difficulties of being green, but a growing number of automakers are trying.

An annual online rating of what's "green" and what isn't, published today, has four new models on its list of the dozen most environmentally friendly vehicles for 2007.

Equally notable, though, is the large number of vehicles that nearly made the list in the Green Book, an environmental guide to cars and trucks by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington.

"There are a lot of eco-friendly vehicles that just missed the cut" for the top 12 ranking, Green Book author James Kliesch said.

"It used to be the case that the greenest vehicles were a select number of models that stood far above the pack," he said. "Today, the eco-friendly field has become much more crowded, and that's good news for consumers."

Honda Motor Co.'s natural-gas-powered Civic GX was the nation's greenest vehicle for the third time in four years -- after being knocked into second place last year by the company's since-discontinued two-seat Insight gasoline-electric hybrid.

Toyota Motor Corp.'s popular Prius, another gasoline-electric hybrid, was second, followed closely by Honda's Civic hybrid.

Two newcomers -- Nissan Motor Co.'s Altima hybrid, which went on sale this month, and Toyota's Yaris subcompact -- rounded out the top five. The other newcomers are Toyota's Camry hybrid, in seventh place, and Honda's Fit subcompact, in eighth.

A third new subcompact in the market, Nissan's Versa, was one of a growing number of vehicles that scored well but not high enough to make the top rankings.

Kliesch said one version of the Versa fell just behind the 12th-place finisher, Honda's gasoline-powered Civic sedan with a 1.8-liter four-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.

But the Versa has a bigger standard engine than most vehicles in the top rankings and is just a bit heavier and slightly less fuel-efficient than its competition. The combined city and highway mileage ratings for the Yaris and Fit range from 33 to 37 miles per gallon; the best the Versa could do was 32 mpg.

The dozen greenest cars this year are Asian models, blanking out American automakers for only the second time in the 10 years the Green Book has been published. Japanese automakers captured nine of the top 12 positions, and South Korean car companies took the three others.

But the U.S. auto industry, considered by some critics to be a reluctant entrant in the green car race, didn't miss the top ratings for lack of trying, Kliesch said.

Models such as Ford Motor Co.'s Focus and Escape hybrid and several from General Motors Corp. -- the Pontiac Vibe and G5, the Chevrolet Cobalt and Aveo and the Saturn Ion -- all scored well, he said.

The ratings cover 467 models but a total of 1,336 vehicle configurations. The large number stems from the various combinations of engine and transmission types, as well as emissions systems, with which various models can be equipped. All of those affect the green score.

The score is computed on the basis of each vehicle's fuel economy and emissions, including those deemed unhealthful, smog-causing and contributing to global warming. The scoring also factors in an industry average for pollutants from manufacturing and pollution-related public health costs.

In addition to its top 12 greenest vehicles, the online book rates the "meanest," or least ecologically friendly. It also provides guides to help motorists find the greenest vehicles in various market segments, such as large pickups, mid-size sport utility vehicles and small passenger cars.

The meanest list includes five SUV models with diesel engines, but Kliesch said that changing standards for diesel emissions equipment and the advent of low-sulfur diesel fuel in the U.S. would probably improve diesel's standing in future lists.

The listings are available from the council, a nonprofit environmental lobbying group, at www.greenercars.com.

john.odell@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

The greenest and the meanest

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The best and worst 2007 vehicles rated on environmental friendliness by the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

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Best Model.....Score

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Honda Civic GX*.....57

Toyota Prius....55

Honda Civic hybrid....53

Nissan Altima hybrid....48

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Worst Model....Score

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Volkswagen Touareg....14

Mercedes-Benz GL320 CDI...16

Lamborghini Murcielago....17

Jeep Grand Cherokee....17

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*Compressed natural gas vehicle fuel economy is given in gasoline-equivalent miles per gallon. Note: Rating depends in part on engine and transmission combination.

Source: American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy

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