Will the Real 'Green Car of the Year' Please Stand Up?

By Bill Moore

Posted: 06 Dec 2009

Carmakers are justifiably proud of winning the annual "Green Car of the Year" award at the Los Angeles Auto Show. This year's recipient is the Audi A3 TDI, described by the award's creator, Ron Cogan, as setting the "bar for highway fuel efficiency in the luxury car segment. Its 50-state certified clean diesel engine is quiet, responsive, and achieves its mission without the need for exotic technologies. Plus, it's sporty and just plain fun to drive."

And I am sure it is most of those things and at an estimated 42 mpg, certainly shows what can be done with existing technology. But I would, as others have done, argue that it wasn't the "greenest" car at the LA Auto Show this year. While the award criteria may preclude pre-production concept cars or those utilizing "exotic technologies" -- presumably meaning expensive batteries and electric drive systems -- if I were awarding the "EV World Car of the Year" my choices wouldn't include IC-engine only vehicles like the Audi A3, nice as it may be.

In the hybrid category, I have to throw my support behind Volkwagen's Up! Lite A hybrid. Yes, it's only a concept, but it features technology that isn't "exotic" by any stretch of the imagination. Like the Audi A3, the Up! Lite A utilizes a TDI diesel engine connected to a 7-speed Direct Shift gear box identical to that found in the new VW Polo. The two-cylinder turbo diesel is the same found in the L1 concept car introduced earlier this Fall at the Frankfurt Auto Show. Integrated into the drive is a 10kW electric motor that acts as the starter, alternator and traction motor. Lithium ion batteries power the e-motor and recapture kinetic energy from regenerative braking.

The Up! Lite A is classified as a full hybrid that can operate on a combination of diesel, diesel-electric and electric only. VW engineers designed the car so that when the driver lets off the accelerator, the diesel engine automatically shuts down in a so-called "coast-down" mode. Touch the accelerator and the diesel fires back up. Like the Toyota, Ford and some GM hybrids EV World has tested, the car can also operate over short distances (2km) at lower speeds on its electric motor without the TDI running. As with most hybrids, the Lite A also features an automatic stop-start system to conserve fuel at stop lights and in stalled traffic.

And at those stop lights, the Audi A3 just keeps churn out emissions, even when it isn't moving. How much is an interesting comparative exercise. According to the British government, the Audi A3 TDI falls into several CO2 tax bands: E through I, depending on the engine configuration. Assuming the A3 TDI selected as "Green Car of the Year" is the 2.0 TDI 140ps DPF Diesel with the M6 transmission, the lowest CO2 emitter of the group, it falls into the E tax band for generating 131 to 180 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer (g/km). The 2.0 TDI 170ps with DPF is rated in the I band and produces between 171-180 g/km.

How's the Up! Lite A compare? VW estimates it will produce only 65 g/km, half that of the A3 TDI for the same number of passengers. Contributing to that is a relatively slick 0.23 coefficient of drag (Cdi).

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. Volkswagen estimates it will get about 70 mpg.

So, which do you think is the greener car? And you don't even have to plug it in; I mean, how utterly normal and un-exotic is that?

Journal Entry Viewed 3380 Times


blog comments powered by Disqus