Once again import brands dominate a list of the most environmentally friendly cars, but this year for the first time they also dominate a list of the most polluting vehicles in a study of 2004 model cars and trucks published Tuesday.
Volkswagen's diesel-powered Touareg sport utility vehicle gets the worst score, nine out of a possible 100 points, in the annual ratings by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. In all, seven of the 12 worst models are from Asian and European brands.
At the other end of the spectrum, the natural-gas-burning Civic GX from Honda Motor Co. is rated the "greenest" production car available in the United States. It beat all three gasoline-electric hybrids on the market -- two from Honda and one from Toyota Motor Corp. -- because of natural gas' cleaner emissions.
No domestic brand earned a spot in the top 12, although Ford Motor Co.'s Focus sedan and station wagon models, which ranked among the greenest last year, slipped only a few places in the new ratings. They remain among the most fuel efficient and least polluting cars on the road, said James Kliesch, lead author of the study.
The nonprofit group compared all commercially available passenger vehicles in 1,700 engine and transmission combinations.
The study rated cars and trucks according to tailpipe pollution and fuel economy as well as pollution from auto factories and fuel refineries. Diesel engines, because they produce more pollutants than their gasoline counterparts, always rate among the worst performers.
Honda products traded places atop the green list this year, as last year's winner, the two-seat Insight hybrid, was topped by the natural gas Civic. That's because a new rating method gave the Civic a better emissions score of 57, the highest the council has awarded a passenger vehicle.
"Overall, we are seeing things getting marginally better" throughout the industry, Kliesch said. "But there still are too many" pickups and SUVs with poor fuel economy and emissions.
Kliesch also singled out the redesigned Toyota Prius, a roomier, heavier and quicker hybrid than its predecessor that marries a small gasoline engine to an electric motor and is rated at 60 miles per gallon in the city and 51 mpg on the highway.
The group found that some pickups, SUVs and minivans did pretty well. Among them: Toyota's Sienna minivan and Highlander mid-size SUV, Honda's CR-V small SUV and Ford's Focus station wagon.
Kliesch said he also was impressed by the GMC Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado "mild hybrid" pickup trucks from General Motors Corp. (available only for fleet sales). The full-size pickups can shut down their gasoline engines when they come to a full stop and average 19 mpg in combined city and highway driving, Kliesch said.
Many trucks wound up on the group's dirtiest dozen, including two pickups and nine SUVs. The only car is the V-12-powered Lamborghini Murcielago. The bottom tier also has seven imports, including three from Toyota, whose V-8 SUVs gulp lots of fuel.
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