Electrified, But Not All Are Electric

Electrified, But Not All Are Electric

With all of the hubbub about how 2022 will be the “year of the electric car,” and many new models coming to dealers’ showrooms, one might think that this year’s list of the most environmentally friendly models would be comprised of full battery-powered rides, but that would only be partially right. 

While all 12 of the “Greenest” vehicles in the U.S. cited by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) in its annual GreenerCars ratings for 2022, are electrified to some extent, only four are full electric vehicles (EVs). The rest—including the top two models—are either gas/electric-powered hybrids (HEVs), or plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) that employ a larger battery that enables them to run for an extended period solely on power from the grid, and emit far less C02 emissions than conventionally powered rides.

That’s down from seven EVs claiming top honors in last year’s study. The organization attributes the fewer models this year to the industry’s shift toward larger and heavier EVs, like the Ford Mustang MACH-e and the Lucid Air, that are inherently less environmentally benign than some of the smaller and lighter models that made previous lists, but are no longer being sold in the U.S. These include electric versions of the Kia Soul and the BMW i3. The highest-rated full-EV for 2022 is, in fact, one of the smallest—the MINI Cooper SE.

“Automakers are pledging more all-electric models, but they’re discontinuing some of the most efficient ones, leaving consumers with fewer compact, ultra-green choices,” says Peter Huether, ACEEE’s senior transportation research analyst. “Automakers shouldn’t produce only huge EVs. Such EVs, though more energy efficient than similarly sized gasoline counterparts, mean higher consumer costs and planet-warming emissions than small electric cars.”

The GreenerCars rankings are based on a study of over 1,000 models, including conventional gas or diesel-powered vehicles, HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs, including those that leverage a hydrogen fuel cell for power. We’re featuring the ACEEE’s list of the cleanest mainstream production models below, and the environmentally “Meanest” choices for 2022 in a separate post.

While it’s widely known that full electric cars produce zero tailpipe emissions, there’s more to evaluating a given model’s full environmental impact than its localized carbon discharge. Rather, the ACEEE’s ratings take into consideration the “cradle to grave” impact a given model will have on the environment. This includes manufacturing disposal impact, a model’s energy source, emissions from manufacturing, and the impact of disposal and recycling. Plug-in cars further evaluate emissions associated with electricity production (the ACEEE maintains a downloadable interactive spreadsheet file that rates various electric cars based on a given Zip Code’s source of kilowatts).

This year’s evaluations also consider emissions created by producing a vehicle’s materials, including those associated with mining lithium, which is a critical component in EV batteries.  

Each vehicle is given an overall Green Score that can be used to compare the relative environmental friendliness – or unfriendliness as the case may be – from one model to another. Those are expressed on a 100-point scale, with higher numbers being better. The top model in the 2022 GreenerCars report is the Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid with a Green Score of 69/100. We’re featuring the ACEEE’s list of the dozen cleanest mainstream models below, and the environmental “meanest” choices for 2022 in a separate post.

Since not everyone necessarily wants or is able to own an electric car or a hybrid, the ACEEE’s website identifies “greener” choices in each vehicle class. For 2022 top-rated internal combustion vehicles include the subcompact Chevrolet Spark, Toyota GR Supra 2.0 sports coupe, the Mercedes-Benz GLA SUV, and the Ford Maverick compact pickup truck.

Here are the ACEEE’s 12 Greenest rides on the road for 2022. We’ll look at the dozen environmentally “Meanest” vehicles of the year in a separate post:

  1. Toyota Prius Prime PHEV: Green Score 69
  2. Hyundai Ioniq PHEV: Green Score 68
  3. MINI Cooper SE EV: Green Score 67
  4. Nissan Leaf EV: Green Score 67
  5. Kia Niro PHEV: Green Score 65
  6. Hyundai Elantra Hybrid Blue: Green Score 65
  7. Mazda MX-30 EV: Green Score 65
  8. Toyota Corolla Hybrid: Green Score 64
  9. Honda Insight Hybrid: Green Score 64
  10. Toyota Camry Hybrid LE: Green Score 63
  11. Tesla Model Y Rear-Drive EV: Green Score 63
  12. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid Blue: Green Score 63

Source: ACEEE, GreenerCars.org.