Lydia Meigs Who is the Greenest Car of All?

For eight years in a row the Honda Civic GX has been rated first in the “Greenest Vehicle of the Year” list elaborated by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). For 2011 the GX classified ahead of the two recently launched plug-in electric vehicles, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt.

The car looks and drives just like a contemporary Honda Civic LX, but doesn’t run on gasoline.  A dedicated natural-gas vehicle, like the GX, runs exclusively on clean-burning natural gas. This guarantees 100 percent alternative-fuel use. Some other natural-gas vehicles use a “bi-fuel” system that doesn’t offer the same economic and low-emissions benefits that a dedicated system offers.

In 2010, the Civic GX was rated the cleanest-burning internal combustion engine in the world by the EPA and in today’s market of hybrid vehicles that is an important distinction.  “We consider not just what emissions are coming out of the tailpipe while the vehicle is running,” said Therese Langer, transportation director, ACEEE.  The EPA would consider the Leaf a zero-emissions vehicle, but the upstream emissions of an electric vehicle (EV) are substantial if, for example, it draws on coal-fired gas plants.  Other important considerations include the emissions associated with the production of raw materials for the car, such as the lithium-ion battery for an EV and its eventual disposal.

So, where are the cost benefits?

Today, the limited-production GX has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of $25,490, but may cost you less. That’s because the Civic GX likely qualifies for incentives based on the fact that it is environmentally responsible and lessens the nation’s dependence on foreign oil. The Civic GX may qualify for a tax credit for eligible buyers and may also qualify for state and local financial incentives that help reduce its $6,935 incremental cost (the additional cost of a natural-gas equipped Civic GX over a gasoline Civic LX). In addition, the Civic GX may qualify for non-monetary incentives such as allowing you to drive in the carpool lane (the High Occupancy Vehicle [HOV] lane) even if there is only one person in the car.

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