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Greener cars for 2010: Here are 11 to watch

March 11th, 2010

By Bill Sullivan
Green Right Now

The electric car is almost here. Hybrids abound. Diesel has cleaned up its act. Even conventional internal combustion engines can be tweaked to do a bit less harm to the environment.

A brighter, cleaner future is a mantra at the auto shows this year. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and a different sort of impression emerges: Change may be coming to the automobile industry, but progress is slow — even grudging — and the message can be murky.

Chevy Volt. Photo: Green Right Now

Chevy Volt. Photo: Green Right Now

Chevy has been hyping the much-discussed Volt, for example. The manufacturer’s new electric car – due later this year – can go up to 40 miles on a single charge before a gasoline engine kicks in to keep passengers from becoming stranded.

A breakthrough? Sort of. The price? Not certain just yet, but reps allow that it will be in the $40,000 range, at least initially, making The Volt more eco-friendly, than wallet-friendly.

Nissan has been touting its new LEAF, an all-electric vehicle expected to get about 100 miles on a full charge. Intriguing, or so it would seem. Unfortunately, the LEAF was a no-show at the recent Dallas Auto Show, even though the vehicles have been touring the country as proof of their worth as “real world” transportation. A representative suggested that Nissan hoped to have the LEAF at the New York International Auto Show in early April.

Mitsubishi brought its new all-electric  iMiEV, which already is on the road in Japan. Interestingly enough, the car was not prominently displayed among the manufacturer’s offerings at the Dallas show, and featured a decidedly U.S.-unfriendly right side steering wheel. When asked about the vehicle’s range, a Mitsubishi rep had to check with a superior to answer a seemingly obvious question. (The eventual answer: About 80 miles to a full charge.)

Meanwhile, the manufacturers continue to trot out a fleet of muscle cars, big trucks and big SUVs, some of which are only marginal upgrades on the status quo. One hybrid SUV touted a whopping 21 miles per gallon on the highway. Sure, that’s better than 17, but…

Bottom line: If you’re looking for real advances in fuel efficiency and environmental consciousness, you can find them. But you’ll have to look closely, and don’t expect too much just yet

Still looking for a greener ride? Here’s are some to consider:

Chevy Volt003

2011 Chevy Volt

Is 40 miles on full charge enough to get America excited? The manufacturer argues that this should be enough for the average owner to make the average commute, using government statistics that claim more than 75 percent of all commuters travel 40 miles or less. If your one-way commute is 41 miles, fear not, since that gasoline engine will pick up the slack. Still, for a round trip exceeding 40 miles, you’ll have to find a place to charge up if you are going to get home without burning any fuel. (Interestingly enough, the gasoline engine doesn’t drive the wheels; it instead powers a generator that sustains the battery charge for up to 300 more miles.) A full recharge takes about 6.5 hours at 110V, around three hours at 220V. Will buyers pony up $40,000 or more for a relatively small car with such limited range? A $7,500 tax credit on the first 250,000 sold might help.

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