The greenest car you've (likely) never heard of

The greenest car you've likely never heard of will soon be hitting Honda showrooms across the United States as the Japanese automaker expands sales of its compressed natural gas powered Civic.

Honda has been quietly winning green car awards for more than a decade as it cautiously introduced the Civic GX first to government and business fleet owners and then retail customers in a handful of test markets.

The nationwide retail launch set for this fall comes as US President Barack Obama pushes for wider adoption of fuel-efficient vehicles - including mandating that all federal cars will need to run on alternative, hybrid or electric power by 2015.

Potential customers could also be lured by substantial cost savings as oil prices climb amid tensions in the Middle East and natural gas prices fall in the wake of major new discoveries in the United States.

But the Civic GX enters a crowded field where new plug-in hybrid and fully electric cars - the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf - are grabbing headlines and zippy new compact cars offer competitive fuel economy.

Honda's goals are relatively modest - doubling sales to around 4,000 vehicles in the first year of national sales while Nissan is hoping to hit annual US sales of 20,000 Leafs - but it still thinks the GX can compete.

"We're asking the GX purchaser to make far fewer sacrifices than any other alternative fuel vehicle," Eric Rosenberg, who heads Honda's alternative fuel vehicle program in the United States.

"When you compare it to the Volt or Leaf, it's the most affordable, it has the best range and it has the quickest refill."

The GX can drive up to 250 miles (403 kilometers) on a single tank and only takes a few minutes to fill at public or home fueling station.

The Leaf has a range of 62 to 138 miles (100 to 222 kilometers) depending on road conditions and takes 30 minutes to partially charge at a quick-charge station and seven to 20 hours using a standard 220 or 110 volt outlet.

GM's Volt can drive 25 to 50 miles (40 to 80 kilometers) on its battery before switching over to a gasoline-powered engine and takes four to ten hours to charge.

Honda's GX is also the cleanest car on the US market, according to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy which looks at a vehicle's total environmental impact.

That's because natural gas is a clean-burning fuel. It consists primarily of methane and emits about 30 percent less carbon dioxide and 70-90 percent less smog-forming particulates than gasoline.

Electric cars may emit nothing from the tailpipe, but they have a significant carbon footprint because 45 percent of US electricity is generated by coal. Their batteries also carry a heavy environmental toll.

Realtor and property manager Irma Vargas bought her first Civic GX in 2006 to save on fuel costs and get access to carpool lanes - a perk that can cut a 90-minute commute in half in congested Los Angeles.

"Me and my business partner bought it and were going to take turns with it because it was a new idea," Vargas said in a telephone interview.

"We found that we were fighting over it, so he ended up getting the next year's model."

Vargas sold the GX to an employee so she could upgrade to a new model in 2008 and has convinced four of her friends and customers to buy one as well.

She figures she's saved thousands of dollars on fuel costs - she can fill her GX at home for about a dollar a gallon while it costs nearly four dollars a gallon to fill her Lexus hybrid, which she saves for long trips and big shopping excursions.

But it will be years before the GX or electric cars are sold in sufficient numbers to make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions, cautioned Lonnie Miller, an analyst at auto research firm R. L. Polk.

"If you look at the traditional batch of gas-electric hybrids, it's 2.6 percent of all US new vehicle registrations," he told AFP.

"CNG (compressed natural gas) and electric, they're not even registering."

It took six years for US consumers to embrace hybrids, which require only a few tradeoffs like a higher initial price tag and limited trunk space.

Like fully-electric cars, the Civic GX requires a much bigger tradeoff.

While owners can fuel up at home with relatively cheap unit called "Phil," long-range trips are essentially out of the question because there are only about 870 public fueling stations in the entire country.

The cost and environmental advantages of compressed natural gas will nonetheless help boost global sales by 9.1 percent a year to 3.2 million vehicles in 2016, according to a recent report by green tech consulting firm Pike Research.

The biggest growth - 25 percent a year - is forecast in the United States, fueled primarily by sales to corporate and government fleets which typically operate their own fueling stations.

Honda started with fleet sales in 1998 and offered the GX to retail customers in California and New York in 2005 as more fueling stations came online.

It expanded retail sales to Utah and Oklahoma in 2008 and 2009 as tax incentives in those natural-gas producing states drew more customers, but has only sold a little over 12,000 of the vehicles so far.

"The whole idea was for us as a company to learn how to retail the car," Honda's Rosenberg said. "It is a little different, it has a few idiosyncrasies."

The experience with the relatively-low cost GX will serve as a good model for the introduction of the holy grail of green cars - the far more expensive and complex hydrogen fuel cell.

Honda was the first automaker to introduce a hydrogen fuel cell prototype in 1999 and began testing a small fleet with retail customers in 2005. It also plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid next year.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Suited and booted in the Lanvin show at the Paris menswear collections
fashionParis Fashion Week
Arts and Entertainment
Kara Tointon and Jeremy Piven star in Mr Selfridge
tvActress Kara Tointon on what to expect from Series 3
Voices
Winston Churchill, then prime minister, outside No 10 in June 1943
voicesA C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
An asteroid is set to pass so close to Earth it will be visible with binoculars
news
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has spoken about the lack of opportunities for black British actors in the UK
film
News
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor - Oxford

    Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: OXFORD - REGIONAL FIRM - An excellent opportu...

    Austen Lloyd: Clinical Negligence Associate / Partner - Bristol

    Super Package: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - SENIOR CLINICAL NEGLIGENCE - An outstan...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Consultant - Solar Energy - OTE £50,000

    £15000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Fantastic opportunities are ava...

    Recruitment Genius: Compute Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Compute Engineer is required to join a globa...

    Day In a Page

    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project