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Which Car is Best for the Environment?

Note: This page was written back in 2010 (ish) and reflects the general thoughts on car choices at the time. Now in 2020 it is amazing how things have shifted. Whilst hybrids, and now fully electric cars still hold our attention diesel has had a very bad run of press thanks to Audi / VW scandal.

It turns out that as well as CO2 emissions from burring diesel we get NO2 and PM10  . . and PM2.5 as an added bonus.  Many cities have implemented ULEZ (ultra low emission zones) and only very clean vehicles are allowed in to ULEZ city centres.

2020 Update

At present the front runners (in no particular order) for cars that are best for the environment are:

Whilst you can still buy diesel cars, they are becoming less popular. This is not because they emit more CO2 per mile / km, but because they lower air quality, without serious emissions abetment in the form of catalytic convertors and diesel particulate filters.

All of the above cars have pros and cons in terms of the environment, and of course there are limitations to the technology, that make some unusable.

"Historic" Opinions as of 2010

50% of people at this stage are thinking NO CAR, the other half are thinking Toyota Prius.

The "no car" gang would be correct in assuming that walking or riding a horse is better for the environment than driving a car, BUT cars are pretty handy, especially if there is no public transport network in your neck of the woods.

For a number of years the Toyota Prius has had a very green image, and looking at the below fuel consumption figures you might assume that their choice is a well made one.

  Environmental Performance Prius    
  Fuel consumption (combined) 57.6 mpg which car is best for the environment
  CO2 emissions 114 g/km  

But what about some other cars, lets look at a VW Lupo

  Environmental Performance Lupo    
  Fuel consumption (combined) 64.2 mpg  
  CO2 emissions 119 g/km  

So from looking at these figures we might say that the two cars are quite similar. The only difference is that the Prius is a very carbon intensive car to manufacture because of the huge battery it contains.

The Prius's battery contains nickel, lots of it, and this has to be mined from very low grade ores (lots of rocks - big holes in the ground - for tiny amounts of nickel). The carbon footprint for the manufacture of this battery will be large just for the nickel, habitat loss, and contaminated land will results from the mining of nickel.

On top of this the Prius is more complicated than say the Lupo above, and as such is bound to have more problems. So why bother?

Some other Discussions relating to the Prius:

Swapping you car for a more efficient variety is one of the few steps you can take to help save the environment, a modern efficient car will burn less hydrocarbons, create less Co2 per mile / kilometer travelled, which contributes less to global warming.



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