One of the more prestigious awards in the automotive industry is set to be bestowed upon one of five finalists, announced by Green Car Journal, a quarterly publication that covers economical automobiles.
This year, the 2015 Green Car of the Year prize is up for grabs between BMW’s i3, the Audi A3 TDI, the Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel, the Honda Fit, and Volkswagen’s Golf. The award, given annually, goes to the vehicle that best exemplifies the raising of the bar in terms of environmental performance. Mass marketed vehicles, which are slated to be on sale on January 1 of the given year, are eligible to win.
“These five exceptional vehicles reflect an expanding ‘green’ car field that embraces diverse fuels and technologies as answers to a more efficient and low carbon future,” said Ron Cogan, editor and publisher of Green Car Journal and CarsOfChange.com.“Each offers a distinctly different approach to driving ‘green’ that appeals to buyers with varying needs and perspectives on how best to lessen environmental impact, while maintaining the joy of driving.”
The year 2015 also marks the tenth anniversary of the award, which was first won by the Mercury Mariner Hybrid in 2006. Last year, the Honda Accord took the prize.
As the growth of the hybrid and plug-in electric car market has increased over the past decade, the competition for the prize has become much more fierce. Today, almost every major auto maker in the world has some sort of competitor in the green vehicle market, whether it be a hybrid or all-electric model. Even electric-only car makers have sprung up, like Tesla.
As for the actual vehicles themselves that are up for the award this year, the competition is as thick as ever. There are some definite mainstays up for the prize, and vehicles from both the luxury and consumer segments are represented.
Within the luxury segment in particular, BMW’s i3 garnered attention from judges due to its lightweight construction, which utilized carbon fiber reinforced plastic, and an aluminum space frame for increased fuel economy. The vehicle, while a hybrid at heart, allows drivers to enter into all-electric mode as well. Also on the luxury end of things, the Audi A3 TDI had judges excited due to its stylish aesthetics and sporty pedigree. The car’s new 2.0-liter TDI clean diesel engine is also more fuel efficient than ever.
Perhaps the biggest surprise to appear among the finalists’ list is the Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel. As the Green Car Journal press release puts it, “the Chevrolet Impala Bi-Fuel sedan breaks new ground by offering the comfort and functionality of a popular mid-size four-door sedan with the ability to drive on affordable clean natural gas or conventional gasoline.”
The car’s designation as a finalist can also be chalked up as a victory for Chevrolet, which has been putting considerable effort into trying to clean up its image. Not only is the company rebuilding itself from a series of recalls and PR gaffes, but putting an emphasis on greener vehicles — like the Chevy Volt and the Cruze — looks to be emerging as a bigger priority as the market shifts.
Of course, the other two finalists — the Volkswagen Golf and the Honda Fit — can’t be overlooked. Both vehicles have become mainstays in the market, and capitalize on their small statures and economical advantages. The Fit is in its third-generation now, and can get an impressive 41 miles per gallon on the highway. As for the Golf, it’s currently in its seventh-generation, and is available in a number of trim levels. In some markets, all-electric drive models are available.
With each passing year, it’s likely that the Green Car of the Year award will likely gain even more prestige, mostly due to the growth of the market overall. As more and more vehicles enter the market, and more consumers start looking at purchasing a hybrid, electric or clean-diesel car, the weight of the judge’s decisions will prove to have an impact.
For evidence that consumers are coming around on more economical vehicles, Green Car Reports says that diesel-powered vehicle sales increased 25% over the first six months of 2014. That increase is spread across the 27 cars and SUVs, nine vans, and ten trucks currently available in the United States that are available with diesel power plants.
But across all green segments in 2013 — that includes diesel, hybrids, batter-powered, and plug-in hybrids — sold more than 664,000 units across the country, according to numbers from Autoblog. Among plug-in vehicles only, sales spiked a whopping 90% over 2012’s sales figures. The leaders in terms of growth were Ford and Nissan, although Toyota’s Prius led the way for all green cars. Volkswagen, Honda, and Audi — all of which have a finalist in the running for this year’s Green Car of the Year award — all added green vehicles to its lineups, and saw considerable growth in terms of sales.
All of this is fantastic news for green car enthusiasts, as well as these companies who are betting big on the future of the market. It appears that consumers are responding to market forces like high gas prices and decreasing prices of hybrid and electric vehicles. Diesel is still fairly expensive, but electric cars are being built with longer ranges, improved batteries, and most important, lower prices.
Again, as more people start gauging whether or not a green car is the right purchase for their next vehicle, the weight of the Green Car of the Year award will likely be able to sway some opinions, and ultimately shape purchasing decisions.
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