Tesla Model S vs. Toyota Mirai Fuel Cell: Which Car Is Greener?

Source: Toyota

We’ve heard Tesla CEO Elon Musk laugh off fuel cell vehicles in the past, calling them alternately “rubbish” and “fool cells,” and indeed there are reasons to believe hydrogen cars are entering the market too early. Nevertheless, the Toyota Mirai is officially on the road in California, and it’s time to match this alternative-fuel with world’s best-selling electric vehicle. According to research posted on Greenercars.org, the two cars are virtually equal in their total environmental impact.

Greenercars.org is the website of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), which publishes the “Greenest and Meanest” lists of cars every year. The ACEEE gets into the full cradle-to-grave analysis of each vehicle, factoring in everything from emissions during production to amount of energy used during operation, whether from a battery or hydrogen tank. Considering the high amount of skepticism coming from Tesla over Toyota’s fuel cell program, it would seem the Model S’s score of 53 is hardly a triumph when the Mirai notched a score of 52 in the 2016 ratings.

tesla model s
Source: Tesla

While the Tesla flagship sedan was the greenest in the large car category, it did not place in the top 20 of cars on the U.S. market. Everything from compact electric cars (Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric) to small gasoline cars (Mazda 2, Chevy Spark) and hybrids (Lexus CT200h, every Prius model) placed ahead of the Model S. Tied with the Model S was the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Audi A3 e-tron, and Honda Civic at 53.

Trailing by just one point was the Toyota Mirai fuel cell vehicle that is selling in limited quantities in California as of October 2015. Though questions about the sustainability of hydrogen production have been raised often (sometimes by us), the ACEEE is apparently comfortable putting the Mirai in its top 50 of cars available in America, which makes its greener than several trims of the Tesla Model X.

Source: Honda

In fact, the Mirai’s ranking puts it above many of the most economical gasoline cars, including the Ford Focus and Mazda 3. The ACEEE has never been shy about placing gasoline cars near the top of its greenest list, and this year marks the first time all top 12 cars had a battery inside. Along with seven pure EVs, the greenest of them all included three versions of the 2016 Prius, the new Chevy Volt, and VW Jetta Hybrid.

Last time around, Shruti Vaidyanathan addressed the absence of Tesla in the top 20 on the Greenercars.org blog with a nod to the vehicle’s high weight (over 5,000 pounds). Other factors are in play as well. A check of fueleconomy.gov reveals the 2016 Volt posting a higher equivalent economy in electric mode (106 miles per gallon) than any Tesla Model S or X on the market. Electricity generation is another factor to consider.

Being one of the greenest cars involves more than passing on gas. A vehicle’s size, weight, style of production, and energy use on the road factor in, too. Fuel cell vehicles may appear to be fool’s gold to a battery EV maker like Tesla, but to organizations who study environmental impact they’re nearly as green as every model rolling off that Fremont factory line in 2016. To Honda and Hyundai, two more automakers with skin in the fuel cell game, that’s probably the best news of the week.

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