Wednesday, 21 November 2007

US Green Car of The Year is not at all Green

It has been reported that the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid has been named 2008 “Green Car of the Year” by the US Magazine Green Car Journal at an event to coincide with the Los Angeles Auto Show. Although the judges included a number of well-known US environmentalists, from bodies such as the Worldwatch Institute, the Sierra Club and the World Resources Institute, the winning vehicle only returns 21 mpg in the city or 22 mpg on the highway. (These are per US gallon, equivalent to around 26 mpg in UK units, or 246gCO2/km.)

The editor of Green Car Journal, Ron Cogan, apparently hailed the choice as a “milestone,” because although SUVs are usually thought of as bad for the environment, the dual-mode hybrid system in the Tahoe “changes this dynamic with a fuel-efficiency improvement of up to 30 percent compared to similar vehicles equipped with a standard V-8.” All the short-listed cars were hybrids this year.

Now, I'm something of a fan of hybrid technology, seeing it as being an important first step towards genuinely low carbon vehicles. But 246gCO2/km is derisory; compare this with the 109gCO2/km for the Toyota Prius, or even the EU's "voluntary" target of 130gCO2/km for the average car sold and you should be able to see why. Indeed, even non-hybrid cars - such as the new diesel VW Polo BlueMotion - can just scrape in under 100gCO2/km - well under half the level of the Chevrolet Tahoe. And I haven't even started thinking about the embodied carbon in a large chunk of metal and plastic...

It's not valid to compare this with other SUVs. Most drivers do not need an SUV, and should not be encouraged to drive one by spurious greenwash. (For reasons that I shall not mention, I spent 20 chilly minutes standing at a road junction this morning scanning cars coming towards me. None of the SUVs had more than a single occupant.) This award is just another example of the worst sort of environmental claim being made, that may allow consumers to feel less guilty about their choices, but will get us nowhere towards a really sustainable energy economy.