The Truth About The Green Car of the Year

Adrian Imonti
by Adrian Imonti
the truth about the green car of the year

There’s something deliciously ironic about slogging through one of LA’s infamous rush hours to attend a “green” cars award ceremony. The multi-lane Harbor Freeway plays host to a long slow dance of cars and semis, tailpipes steadily churning out brownish plumes into a blue sky. The dominant hue is not green but red: the omnipresent brake lights mocking California’s long-abandoned promises of fast, efficient personal travel. It’s almost enough to persuade a driver to ride the bus. Like me, most just crank on caffeine and escape boredom via the stereo, instead.

Safely ensconced within the confines of the Convention Center, road rage gives way to the journalistic trough [fair disclosure] and a wander amongst enough exotic metal to give a 49er a heart attack. In my dreams, I can grab a fast steed from the floor and point it at a winding road and go. In reality, manufacturers employ Swiffer-wielding minions to dust the untouchables.

Anyway, back to this business of saving the planet. This year’s auto show has been transformed into an overhead cam version of Earth Day. Even our press room sponsor proclaims that it’s now “dedicated to a green future.” In past years, such unbridled vehicular earth worship from a tire manufacturer would be about as credible as Vogue promoting a positive body image to a bulimic support group. Today, auto industry types don’t as much play the green card as staple it to their forehead.

The third annual Green Car of the Year award comes courtesy of the Green Car Journal™; which is also the Green Car Journal Online™,™,™ and Green Car™. Whether or not Ron Cogan practices the TM that he preaches, the editor and publisher behind these ventures has fully grasped the marketing possibilities of cleaning-up the image of the [once and future] planet destroyer. Clearly.

If you were expecting a sneering panel of hippy judges drenched in patchouli and incense, think again. In addition to such green luminaries as Jean-Michel Cousteau (eldest son of Jacques, the original Fish Whisperer) and Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope, both Jay Leno and Carroll Shelby voted in this year’s eco-electoral college. Not that the (former) champions of unbridled horsepower bothered showing up. Still, had they attended, the erstwhile eco-converts would have been flattered (not to say intoxicated) by the substantial media presence.

Mr. Cogan’s buff book has yet to find an alternative fuel that it doesn’t like. This year’s five nominees amped-up the hybrid hype, but good. GM dominated the entries, with its hybrid versions of the Aura, Malibu and Tahoe. Hybrid variants of the Mazda Tribute and Nissan Altima completed the list of contenders.

The esteemed panel awarded the coveted prize to the Chevrolet Tahoe. Mr. Cogan burnished its halo with all the enthusiasm you’d expect from a man who jets around the world on someone else’s nickel to test “green” cars without disclosing the manufacturers’ contribution to his reports or carbon footprint.

The cynicism is warranted. The powerplant installed in this belle of the enviro-ball Tahoe hybrid begins with a 6.0-liter V8. GM opted to graft its hybrid system onto a motor that’s substantially larger (e.g. thirstier) than either the 4.8 or 5.3-liter conventional motors used in other Tahoes. Attach 400 pounds of batteries to this mammoth mill, and the resulting ecotank offers no improvement in highway fuel economy and slightly less towing capacity over the old-fashioned dino burner.

Employing a gasser 25 percent larger than the norm– instead of deploying a lighter motor of smaller displacement– only to weigh it down with nickel metal hydride, seems a lot more mean than green. Yet with battery acid on tap, apparently all is forgiven.

To be fair, not all of the runners-up deserve a slam. Both the Nissan Altima Hybrid and the Mazda Tribute Hybrid accomplish their missions: delivering relatively low emissions and strong fuel economy relative to their respective classes. If you want four-wheeled fodder for a general rant against gasoline-battery marriages, you won’t find it here.

Still, there’s no getting around it: this award is meant to be about “moving the bar forward” in the noble pursuit of slicing America’s overall fuel consumption through consumer choice. Unfortunately, the prize has delivered a less laudable lesson: how ecology-as-pop-culture can produce sub-optimal results.

The recurring theme of the awards presentation: sacrifice is wholly unnecessary. But the belief that one can pilot a big block V8 for a grocery run while doing the planet a favor is just as absurd as it sounds. Irrespective of where you shake out on matters environmental, the message of burn-it-big-but-with-batteries is overtly hypocritical, an idea worthy of a spin-crazed carmaker, not an [alleged] environmental crusader.

For the majority of those with a desire to save fuel, swapping your ride for a smaller car remains the obvious and most effective solution.

Join the conversation
2 of 85 comments
  • EJ_San_Fran EJ_San_Fran on Nov 19, 2007
    davey49: Brownie- SUVs are “fun” because they hold a lot of people (family or friends), haul a lot of stuff like camping gear or hunting and fishing equipment and tow things like campers, boats, motorcycles, 4 wheelers, etc… The high riding driver position is also an aid while driving in traffic. EJ- The Tahoe Hybrid is rated to tow 6000# and the Highlander is rated at 5000#. Towing that much weight with a FWD based vehicle has never been an ideal situation. Davey, Personally, I do all of this towing with a FWD minivan that gets 24 MPG on average. My minivan is rated for 3500 lbs towing and it works fine. Getting a Chevy Tahoe Hybrid to tow 6000 lbs seems kind of ridiculous to me (this spec is probably even exaggerated, so in practice you probably can tow only slightly more than my minivan). I see a lot of people doing heavy towing with something like a F-350 pickup truck. But that's far beyond the capability of this Chevy Tahoe Hybrid...
  • EJ_San_Fran EJ_San_Fran on Nov 19, 2007
    EJ: This Chevy Tahoe Hybrid gets about the same MPG (21/22) as the (non-hybrid) Toyota Highlander (18/24). Both vehicles have similar towing capacity and cargo volume, but the Highlander is much cheaper and drives better. Phil Resler: These aren’t the same class of vehicle. The Tahoe is body-on-frame and the larger of the two. The Highlander is unit-body construction. The truck buyer will prefer the Tahoe. I'm talking about the new Highlander. That one is quite similar in size and capabilities to the Tahoe and it's probably more rugged (who would take a hybrid on dirt roads? I wouldn't) For most people (i.e. suburban kid schleppers) the unit-body construction is the better choice.
  • Undead Zed I'm not particularly interested in the truck, but do look forward to the puns that the marketing department may try to work into the adverts."Visit your local dealership and go for a Flash drive today."
  • Art_Vandelay UAW leadership always brings up CEO pay. Yet they never bring up that their last deal would likely have been better for membership had they not been on the take from those same CEO's. UAW members have far more beef with their own leadership than senior management of their companies.
  • IH_Fever Another day, more bloviating between the poor downtrodden union leeches and the corporate thieves. But at least pantsuit guy got a nice new shirt.
  • IH_Fever I can't wait to see an Escalade on 24"s blow the brakes off of the competition!
  • Redapple2 Why does anyone have to get permission to join? Shouldnt the rules to race in a league be straight forward like. Build the car to the specs. Pay the race entry fee. Set the starting grid base on time trials.?Why all the BS?I cant watch F1 any more. No refuel. Must use 2 different types of tires. Rare passing. Same team wins every week. DRS only is you are this close and on and on with more BS. Add in the skysports announcer that sounds he is yelling for the whole 90 minutes at super fast speed. I m done. IMSA only for me.