Green transportation – Cars

When it comes to transportation, by far the best way in which to save money and protect the environment is to move away from the most inefficient, yet most popular, mode of transportation we have: single-person-in-car. However, for the great many who cannot ditch their cars, the green economy is producing a number of attractive options for reducing your environmental footprint and even save a little bit of money in the process.

Firstly, we just need to get some perspective on just how far we still have to go. For example, the most car-loving nation in the world, the US, has one of the most inefficient vehicle fleets in the world (shown below). Thanks to the recently employed CAFE standards, the trend is moving in the right direction, but, given the long and traumatic US history of energy-dependence on the middle East, it is rather bizarre that the US vehicle fleet is still so terribly inefficient. For perspective, the vehicle fleets in places like Europe and Japan are almost double as fuel efficient as in the US.

US fuel economy

So, what options does the green economy give us to improve these rather terrible numbers? By far the most efficient type of car is a pure electric. Due to the efficiency of electric drive over an internal combustion engine, a typical electric car can get around 100 MPG (miles per gallon of gasoline equivalent). However, electric cars remain more expensive than standard options and also have problems with limited range and longer charge times.

Another thing to remember about EVs is that they are only as green as the electricity they use. In some countries, they have very low emissions, but in most countries, a good hybrid or even a regular efficient diesel is a better choice environmentally speaking. Take a look at this excellent map from


An attractive alternative is a plug-in hybrid. These guys only have enough battery power for about 10 miles of highly efficient electric drive, after which the car switches to hybrid mode which achieves about 50 MPG (still not bad at all). However, these cars are still about 20% more expensive than regular hybrids.

In many cases, a regular hybrid is the best option. Hybrids are really cheap nowadays and get excellent fuel efficiencies of 50 MPG or even more for smaller city cars. Toyota has an especially interesting range of “Hybrid Synergy Drive” vehicles which leverage the strong points of both the gasoline and electric motors to give the best and most efficient driving experience under all conditions. This is explained in a little more detail in the video below.

Regular gasoline/diesel cars are still the cheapest though and are making some impressive gains in terms of fuel efficiency. Diesel is generally more fuel efficient, but a bit more expensive. It also involves some other potentially harmful emissions.

So, to summarize: If you live in one of the green countries in the map above and you can handle the price and range limitations of an EV, this is the best option. If you have range anxiety, a plug-in hybrid is a great alternative. For all other counties, a hybrid is the best option followed by an efficient gasoline/diesel vehicle if you are really price-sensitive.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – The green economy

5 thoughts on “Green transportation – Cars”

  1. I’d be interested to understand the energy costs of producing a ‘green’ vehicle in the first place – my guess is that it’s considerable and would require many miles of driving in said ‘green’ vehicle to offset against keeping an older less-efficient car.

  2. Faced with the ever increasing global population, to doggedly persevere with the same century old existing transport systems, while doing little more than fiddle (while Rome burns) and hope the problems go away, will simply not be environmentally socially or economically acceptable for future generations. It needs to be understood that all visions currently available for the functionality of future surface transport are erroneous (cars buses and trains), and whatever is envisaged for how future systems will work, is seriously flawed. Any proposed solution must be all encompassing, financially viable and most importantly, have the mechanical ability to move people and goods much faster with minimised energy consumption for the future. This is absolutely essential and doable, and must be appreciated and understood from the outset.

      1. Hi Schalk,
        Im a motor racing engineer and lived in South Africa in the 1970.
        Im still working on information, but can provide a document outlining the big picture and future direction for transport. (Not able to do it here so send me an email address and I will let you see it).
        I have spent 5 years working out how this can all fit together and take place, along with every aspect of the mechanical components required.
        It is not radical change, it is actually just a common sense planning approach to the problem.
        Yes for sure small electric cars have a big part to play, but are only one essential element.
        My intention is to give it a go to start this in South Africa.
        Pat Hansen

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