Union of Concerned Scientists greenest automaker ranking infographic

Let's start with the good news. On average, any new car you buy in the US today will be 43 percent cleaner than any average new car in 1998. Here's some more good news, for Korea anyway, Hyundai-Kia has been named the cleanest automaker in the latest study by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), which looked at 2013 model year vehicles sold between October 2012 and September 2013 from the top eight automakers (by volume). The bad news? The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The big three Detroit automakers are, on average, still making the dirtiest cars in the showroom.

The problem for Ford, General Motors and Chrysler lies in their trucks, which sell well but tend to have pretty bad fuel economy (compared to sedans, at least). The UCS calculates its list by averaging "the per-mile emissions for each light-duty vehicle sold by each automaker" and then factors in "the fuel economy, fuel type, and sales volume of each type of vehicle sold by each automaker" and "the upstream global warming emissions from producing and distributing the fuel used by each vehicle, as well as emissions from the vehicles themselves." That all means that, the more trucks you sell, the worse you're gonna do. Then again, the more trucks you sell with 18 mpg, the more you're helping drivers put CO2 into the air, so the UCS is doing a fair comparison of the things that this study is trying to track. More details on the methodology are available on page six of the study PDF.

In case you were wondering (we were), UCS did make sure to use the revised mpg numbers for Hyundai and Kia models that were originally overstated. Hyundai has apologized for and fixed those figures and even with the new, corrected numbers, Hyundai's total emissions are dropping at a rate of about three percent a year, enough for it to take the greenest company title for the first time.

In fact, this is the first time that an automaker other than Honda has come out on top in the UCS ranking, which has been released six times now, including the first one in 2000 (which looked at 1998 model year data). In 2010, Honda was almost knocked off the winner's perch by both Hyundai and Toyota, but managed to hold on. Chrysler, on the other hand, came in dead last (again) in the ranking of the top eight automakers, snagging the "dirtiest tailpipe" award once (again). Read the UCS' press release below.

We asked study author Dave Cooke what an automaker could do to improve its score, and he told AutoblogGreen in an email that:

Improving the fuel economy of a manufacturer's biggest sellers should be a top priority. However, boosting sales of a very green vehicle can help as well. For a good example of how both strategies would be helpful, you can look at Nissan-less than two percent of Nissan's sales are the Leaf, but since it performs so much better than the average vehicle, it is able to improve Nissan's score by one percent just by being sold. However, if you improved Nissan's top-selling vehicle, the Altima (~25 percent of sales), by about five percent, this would also give a similar level of improvement. By focusing on both improving its existing, popular vehicles and developing a "green" halo car, Nissan was able to make the most gains in reducing global warming emissions from its fleet since the last rankings.

Chrysler, you know what to do.
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New Ranking Shows All Major Auto Companies Boosted Green Performance

Hyundai-Kia Dethrones Honda to Become New Greenest Automaker

WASHINGTON (May 27, 2014) – The country's eight bestselling automakers are all improving their environmental performance thanks to new technologies and stronger standards for fuel efficiency and tailpipe emissions, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists' (UCS) latest Automaker Rankings report, which found that Hyundai-Kia has unseated Honda to become the group's new "Greenest Automaker."

For the first time since UCS began its Automaker Rankings report, all eight automakers reduced their average carbon and smog-forming emissions compared to their fleet averages from 1998, the model year examined in the first report. The report, the sixth evaluation of its kind by UCS, examined the emissions of both global warming and smog-forming pollution from 2013 model year vehicles of the automakers.

"For too many years, clean car standards were stagnant and automakers were more likely to promote extra cup holders instead of fuel economy," said Dave Cooke, a vehicles analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program and the author of the report. "Now, consumers are demanding cars that go further on a gallon of gas and new standards are pushing the automakers to deliver. The big lesson here is that the smog and global warming standards are working and there is much more to be gained as these standards progress."

Stronger tailpipe emissions standards have led to an 87 percent reduction in smog-forming tailpipe emissions from the average car or truck since 2000, while global warming emissions from the average vehicle have decreased by nearly 20 percent since 1998.

Using the adjusted, most up-to-date information on Hyundai-Kia's vehicles after the automaker had to revise its performance data with the U.S. EPA, the findings show that the automaker came out in first place thanks to a concerted effort to improve the green performance of its fleet by turbocharging and downsizing engines in a number of its models while also introducing hybrid-electric versions of two of its top-selling vehicles, the Hyundai Sonata and Kia Optima.

This report marks the first time another company has bested Honda, which came in second this year but has earned every "Greenest Automaker" previous accolade from UCS since 1998.

"Honda continues to lead the way in many vehicle classes, but it's started to lag the industry average in its midsize fleet-which includes its best-selling Accord, and accounts for a quarter of the company's sales," said Cooke. "As Hyundai-Kia works to further improve fuel economy and electrify its fleet, Honda will need to step up its game if it wants to take back the crown."

It was a three-way tie for third place, with Toyota, Nissan, and Volkswagen too close to call. While all the international automakers in the ranking scored better than the national average, the Detroit Three – Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler – continue to bring up the rear, as they have in every automaker ranking. However, some domestic automakers are making greater strides than others

Ford led the Detroit automakers while achieving the greatest percent reduction in smog-forming emissions of any manufacturer evaluated. The company also enjoyed strong improvements in global warming emissions due to its increased use of hybrids and its focus on smaller, turbocharged engines in vehicles ranging from the Ford Focus sedan to its iconic, best-selling large pick-up, the F-150, demonstrating that fuel-economy gains are possible across an automaker's entire fleet.

Technology will be crucial to achieving continued reductions in both global warming and smog-forming emissions from the U.S. fleet, the report projects, as more stringent emissions standards continue to take effect. Diverse strategies to improve fuel economy and global warming emissions-from improvements in conventional engines to plug-in-electric and hybrid-electric vehicles-all present opportunities for automakers to continue and accelerate the trend of reducing emissions across all types of vehicles.

"Automakers have a lot of clean technology ready to roll, and they are only just beginning to deploy it," said Don Anair, research director of the UCS Clean Vehicles program. "Continued investments by automakers coupled with strong performance standards will ensure new models further reduce fuel consumption and tailpipe emissions while offering the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle choices for their customers."

The Union of Concerned Scientists puts rigorous, independent science to work to solve our planet's most pressing problems. Joining with citizens across the country, we combine technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future.