Finding an Environmentally Friendly SUV

article image
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/OLLIRG
Environmentally friendly SUVs are available on the market.

Learn how to find an environmentally friendly SUV in today’s auto market.

U.S. automobiles release more carbon dioxide than the
nationwide energy-related emissions of all but four other
countries in the world and the immense popularity of
fuel-inefficient SUVs has dragged down the national average
fuel economy, now at a 23-year low. In the last seven
years, SUV sales have doubled and now account for 24
percent of all new vehicle sales. The average SUV still
pollutes 46 percent more than the average passenger car,
although some automakers, including Acura, BMW, Honda, and
Volvo, are installing better emissions controls on specific
models.

Contrary to popular belief, SUVs are not inherently safer
than cars because of their increased size. Many SUVs are
less stable than cars and provide poor occupant protection
in rollovers. In general, if you don’t have an ongoing need
for large capacity, increased power or off-road ability,
you should avoid these vehicles. Here are five
recommendations if you do need an environmentally friendly SUV.

1. Look for an SUV with better-than-average fuel economy.
Typically this means choosing a more compact model, rather
than a larger one.

2. Seek out SUVs with the cleanest emissions; some now meet
the Ultra-Low-Emission Vehicle standard. And a new set of
emission standards goes into effect with model year 2004.
Models that currently meet the “Tier 2 bin 5” standard,
such as the Acura MDX, Honda CR-V, Honda Element and Volvo
XC 90, have the lowest emissions among SUVs now on the
market.

3. Wait for forthcoming hybrid-electric SUVs. Over the next
few years, hybrid versions of the Ford Escape, Lexus RX
400H, Saturn VUE, Toyota Highlander and others are to be
released.

4. Don’t drive solo: A cargo- and passenger-packed SUV uses
its fuel more efficiently than an empty one. This logic,
while applicable to all vehicles, is particularly important
for large-capacity SUVs and pickups.

5. Contact your senators and representatives and demand
higher fuel economy standards. A number of vehicle, engine
and transmission technologies exist that could improve SUV
fuel economies at modest costs. For more information visit
www.aceee.org/transportation.