Green cars from overseas

The Wall Street Journal‘s energy-new blog points out a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists rating the tailpipe emissions of the car’s made by the companies that dominate the North American market. The scientists break their results into greenhouse-gas emissions and smog-contributors, but also offer a global score:

Tops in each category for the fourth straight report is Honda, followed closely by Toyota.Volkswagen’s global-warming score is third-best in the group, but its smog score is near the bottom. Hyundai-Kia is fourth in both categories, while Nissan has the third-best smog score of the bunch.

Bringing up the rear are the Big Three — Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler — though Ford’s smog rating is a bit better than VW’s. And DaimlerChrysler is the worst of the worst, according to the UCS. “DaimlerChrysler’s vehicles emit 70% percent more smog-forming pollutants and nearly 30% more global-warming pollutants per mile than Honda’s vehicles,” the UCS writes.

Here’s the original news release, with links to the supporting data. If you dig into it a bit, you find that car-for-car, the American-based automakers aren’t actually that much worse than their Asian competitors — it’s just that their fleets include big SUVs and light trucks that the Asian automakers just don’t make. Here’s a chart from the report that compares each company’s small cars:

Small car chartAs you can see, Honda (“Tops in each category for the fourth straight report”!) is fighting it out with DaimlerChrysler for last place, albeit with smog its chief problem. Ford’s small cars compete with Nissan’s first best overall, while GM’s not great but has nothing much to be ashamed of.

Volkswagen, meanwhile, does surprisingly poorly in the Union of Concerned Scientists’ study, but makes up for it by ducking out of the large-vehicles categories almost entirely. According to the UCS, Volkswagen makes no small SUVs, no large SUVs, and no minivans. It makes a medium SUV (the Touareg) that does appallingly in the scientists’ rankings, suggesting that if the company chose to compete in those other categories, it would do so with pollution-spewing monsters. Hyundai-Kia makes neither mid-sized nor large SUVs.

The trouble is that the Asian manufacters’ small cars are, by and large, more popular than the American automakers’. Honda and Toyota and the others own that market, while largely surrending the field of gas-guzzlers to the Big Three. If consumers move toward clean-air-friendly vehicles, as they are, that’s sure to mean an even further drift toward imports and away from the North American companies’ land yachts.

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