Up-Selling Hybrid Cars: Hold the Leather, Please

Union of Concerned Scientists develop Hybrid Score Card that rates hybrid-electric cars on three key attributes.

Published: 29-Jan-2010

You know the old saying that the more things change, the more they stay the same? As more and more car companies finally respond to our desire to kick the gas habit, many of them can’t seem to kick the habit of piling on luxury options to drive up the prices and the profits.

This can have the unfortunate effect of making the most affordable cars to drive the least affordable to buy. Fortunately, this is not always the case, as the Hybrid Scorecard, a new research report by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), shows. The report also attempts to unravel the confusion over whether the additional investment in a hybrid results in a commensurate level of improvement in the vehicle’s environmental performance. The scorecard, which UCS claims is the only comprehensive ranking of hybrid cars in the US, ranks hybrids based on three attributes: Environmental Score, Hybrid Value and Forced Features.

The environmental score looks at two attributes: global warming emissions (which is really the improvement in fuel economy when compared to the most similar non-hybrid car) and smog forming emissions. Smog forming emissions refer to the arcane-looking EPA designations you sometimes see on window stickers for things like LEV meaning Low Emission Vehicle or PZEV for Partial Zero-emission Vehicle. The best environmental performer is the Prius, followed by a tie between the Honda Civic and the Ford Fusion/Mercury Mariner. Lowest in this category is the Saturn Aura, whose “light hybrid” package has relatively little impact on fuel economy.

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