The ‘Greenest’ Car Companies This Earth Day

Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty Images

No car company is green. They all build machines made to run on polluting materials of one kind or another. Unless you happen to drive an electric vehicle powered exclusively by solar energy, there is an impact on the environment and the future of the planet every time you go for a spin.

Then again, we all need to get around, so we might as well find a car that gets us there with as little pollution as possible.  Some automakers are better than others at offering green products to drive. Whether searching for new consumers or adhering to rules that force them to build cars that pollute less (thanks, California), car companies have made major strides in hybrid and all-electric vehicles in the past decade.

On the occasion of Earth Day 2015, we take a look at which automaker deserves to be called the greenest in terms of fuel economy, green product innovation, and overall effect on the industry.

mazda 3
Source: Mazda

Fuel economy: Mazda

In terms of fuel economy, only one major automaker broke 28 miles per gallon for efficiency in the last count: Mazda. With a midsize sedan (a non-hybrid) capable of over 40 miles per gallon in highway driving, Mazda has delivered cars that are extremely fun to drive while offering minimal impact on the environment. That achievement is worth celebrating and, as the top automaker in overall economy, Mazda sets a shining example for the industry to follow. Honda placed second at 27.4 miles per gallon.

2015 Prius V

Green product innovation: Toyota

In the early days of the 21st century, Toyota introduced the gas-electric hybrid Prius that started a bona fide revolution in the auto industry. (By comparison, General Motors was working on a new type of tank called the Hummer in those days.) Over 3 million Prius sales later, there is no question what a success it has been for the automaker. At the 2015 New York Auto Show, Toyota introduced the RAV4 hybrid, which will mark the eighth hybrid for Toyota alone. Lexus has several others.

All told, Toyota has sold over 7 million hybrids worldwide. But it doesn’t end there. Small compact cars have had as much of an impact on the auto industry, namely in forcing Detroit automakers to think smaller and more economical. Toyota is not showing interest in pure electric vehicles, but its effort to advance fuel cell vehicle technology may give them the greenest car yet. Overall, no automaker has innovated in the alternative fuel vehicle space like Toyota.

Tesla model S
Source: Tesla

Biggest impact on industry: Tesla

In terms of having an impact on U.S. culture, few automakers have captured the public’s imagination like Tesla Motors. The electric car company from California has been on a zero emissions crusade based not on guilt but on the wonder inspired by powerful Model S sedan. This approach has been second to none in attracting buzz for the automaker and the electric vehicle segment as a whole.

Lost in the shuffle is just how green a war Tesla is waging. Its latest efforts in solar charging stations point to a potential for zero emissions in the future of transportation. Tesla also excels at generating enthusiasm among Wall Street investors and conservationists alike. If its future unfolds according to plan, Tesla even has a chance to penetrate the mass market with its innovative green cars.

Even with the outstanding contributions from Tesla (mainly in the future) and Mazda (on a relatively small scale), Toyota must be considered the greenest automaker of the bunch in 2015. Its innovations in hybrid systems and dedication to creating a new type of green vehicle are unparalleled. If you have to toast an automaker this Earth Day, raise your glass to Toyota.