If we view the automobile’s history of environmental improvement in modern times – say, from the 1990s to present day – there is an important perspective to be gained. It has never been just about electric vehicles. That’s simply where we’ve ended up at present due to an intriguing alignment of influences and agendas, from technology advances and environmental imperatives to gas prices and political will.
Over the years, auto manufacturers and their suppliers, technology companies, energy interests, and innovators of all stripes have been hard at work striving to define mobility’s future. Fuels in their crosshairs have included ethanol, methanol, hydrogen, natural gas, propane autogas, biofuels, synthetic fuels, and of course electricity. Lest we forget, cleaner-burning gasoline and diesel have been part of the evolution as well.
As a nation, we have always approached this challenge with an open mind and a determination to explore what’s possible, and what makes sense. Rather than declaring a winner, for decades the approach has been to keep our options open as we define the best road ahead for environmental progress. Now, by government fiat and funding, battery electric cars have essentially been declared the winner.
This is troubling. As a die-hard auto enthusiast and auto writer my entire adult life – and a member/supporter of the Sierra Club for decades – I have developed some strong and well-grounded perspectives on cars, their environmental impact, and the future of mobility. My advocacy for electric cars is genuine and well-documented over the 30 years I have been publishing Green Car Journal, and before that through my writing as feature editor at Motor Trend. Honestly, it’s hard not to be a fan of EVs after a year of test driving GM’s EV1 and then spending many tens of thousands of miles behind the wheel of other battery electric cars over the years. Yet, I now sit back and wonder at the ways things seem to be unfolding.
As expected, electric vehicles took a high profile at the increasingly important CES show in Las Vegas and this attention will certainly continue at upcoming auto shows. News of innovations, strategic alliances, and all-new electric models proliferate today, showing how dynamic this field has become and underscoring the nonstop media attention that EVs enjoy. But progress does not mean electric vehicles should be our singular focus.
There are significant risks with an all-in electric car strategy. Not the least of these is that by deemphasizing the importance of petroleum and the potential use of other alternative fuels in the near-term – crucial components in fueling the national fleet as we appear to be heading toward an electrified future – we risk the stability of our economy and our national security.
Yes, sales of electric vehicles have surged in the midst of extraordinarily high gas prices and heightened concern about climate change. However, history shows us that gas prices spike, drop, and then remain at levels that find drivers once again becoming complacent. This predictable script should provide incentive to make smart moves like diversifying our energy sources as we build the necessary infrastructure for an increasingly electrified world, rather than bet it all on EVs. So many of the elements for the EV’s success remain unclear or continue to pose significant challenges.
If interest in electric vehicles is decoupled from high gas prices and surging because of the urgent need to mitigate carbon emissions, then we will see electric vehicle sales continue to rise, perhaps dramatically. But if increased interest and sales is largely tied to the high cost of gas, then a lot of regulators, environmental interests, and EV-leaning consumers – plus of course automakers that have gone all-in with electrics – are set for a serious reckoning.
All this isn’t to diminish the importance of electric vehicles. Rather, it’s a call to be mindful of the challenges ahead and look at the bigger picture. We should encourage electric vehicles – whether powered exclusively by batteries, a combination of internal combustion and battery power, or perhaps hydrogen – in every reasonable way possible. In particular, hybrids and plug-in hybrids must play an increasingly larger role in the years ahead. We have come a long way over the past 30 years, and we have a long road ahead in the effort to decarbonize transportation and mitigate its impact on climate change. We need to keep at it, aggressively, and we need to prepare.
Let’s just not make assumptions that all will go according to plan. California’s decision to ban the sale of gasoline cars by 2035, in particular, will certainly find unexpected obstacles on the way to that aspirational milestone. It happened before with California’s Zero Emission Vehicle mandate more than two decades ago, which failed to realize its goal of 10 percent electric vehicle sales by 2001. Beyond California, similar hurdles will exist in other ‘green’ states like Oregon, Washington, and Vermont that have now adopted California’s 2035 gasoline vehicle sales ban, along with other ‘green’ states that will surely follow California’s lead.
There’s a lot going right for electric vehicles today. But there’s also a wide array of continuing challenges that face EV proliferation. These range from persistently expensive batteries, high vehicle prices, and sold out EV production runs to shortages of essential materials, a nascent nationwide charging infrastructure, and a national grid woefully unprepared to reliably charge tens of millions of electric cars. Then there’s the question of whether consumer EV purchases will continue to accelerate or weaken in tandem with lower gas prices.
It’s one thing to devise ambitious goals and quite another to make them law, especially when so many assumptions are in play. Given all this, is a wholesale shift to electric cars and a ban on the sale of gasoline vehicles even possible just a dozen years from now? As a long-time automotive analyst and EV enthusiast, I have serious doubts.
There was a time when environmental leadership in the auto industry was a scarce commodity. Seventeen years ago, when Green Car Journal announced its first Green Car of the Year® in Los Angeles, it was difficult to identify more than a few dozen truly worthy vehicles to be considered for the honor. Today it is a formidable challenge in a different way. Now, analyzing the expansive field of green cars that champion greater environmental performance can be downright mind numbing, along with the process of honing the list down to a manageable number of candidates for each of our Green Car Awards™.
Still, this is a great problem to have and we’re up to the challenge. In fact, we celebrate the difficult and time-consuming process. This sheer number of greener models means that all of us benefit from the ability to buy and drive an increasing number of vehicles that champion a lighter impact on the environment.
As finalists are evaluated during the judging process, Green Car Journal weighs an array of important criteria such as environmental achievement, cost, value, safety, performance, functionality, and availability. These may vary from one award category to another. For instance, cost is less of a factor in Luxury Green Car of the Year™; greater driving range may not be as critical in Urban Green Car of the Year™; and immediate availability is less of an issue for Commercial Green Car of the Year™, since commercial fleets tend to plan well ahead and are used to scheduled batch builds of specialized vehicles. Some criteria take on more importance, such as electric driving range in most categories where EVs are considered; family friendliness in awards where passenger needs or capacity are important; and tow ratings and realistic long-distance towing and hauling capabilities in the case of Green Truck of the Year™.
There are more complex issues at play today. We’ve seen order banks for some new or popular pickups like the Ford F-150 Lightning and Ford Maverick suddenly close for the model year, which means consumers are no longer able to order one, at least at this time. Since price is an important consideration for most award categories, when we see sudden price hikes in the thousands of dollars, we also take notice. Then there’s the issue of supply chain disruptions and materials shortages that can delay a model’s expected availability. We take all of this into account and dive deep to ensure we’re as up to speed as possible to avoid potential surprises.
Green Car Journal’s Green Car Awards™ program has evolved over the years, most notably with the addition of more award categories to reflect the ever changing and expanding world of environmentally positive vehicles. Plus, along with the ‘greenest’ vehicles honored by the 2023 Green Car Awards™ program, Green Car Journal now recognizes the crucial roles that infrastructure and technology play in enabling a more sustainable driving future.
Let's get to it. Here are the winners of Green Car Journal’s prestigious 2023 Green Car Awards™:
TOYOTA CROWN – The Crown is Toyota's sophisticated new flagship that champions high fuel economy, lower carbon emissions, and appealing style. The five-passenger sedan features a stylish and high tech cabin designed to offer a premium feel. It’s powered by a 2.5-liter THS hybrid estimated to deliver 38 combined mpg, or a more powerful 2.4-liter turbocharged HYBRID MAX powerplant with 340 horsepower. On-demand all-wheel drive is standard.
CADILLAC LYRIQ – Featuring upscale styling and a premium theme, the Lyriq is Cadillac’s first all-electric vehicle that’s offered in single or dual motor versions with rear- or all-wheel drive. At a base price of $62,990, the Lyriq features an impressive 312 mile driving range. Satisfying performance is delivered by 340 horsepower in the single motor variant and 500 horsepower in the dual motor version.
Among this award’s finalists were the Cadillac Lyriq, Genesis GV60, Lexus RX, Mercedes-Benz EQB, and Polestar 2.
MITSUBISHI OUTLANDER PHEV – Last year’s introduction of the all-new Mitsubishi Outlander made waves with its more dynamic styling and upscale features. Now the next-generation Outlander PHEV has joined the lineup. Featuring standard all-wheel drive, the twin motor plug-in hybrid SUV now features significantly greater battery electric range of 38 miles and 420 miles overall, plus the addition of three-row seating that was unavailable in the previous generation Outlander PHEV.
RAM 1500 –The RAM 1500 is a model of versatility and functionality that provides pickup buyers loads of choices. It’s available in Quad Cab and Crew Cab configurations, offers two pickup box lengths, two- or four-wheel drive, and diverse power options. These include two hybrids – a 3.6-liter eTorque V-6 and 5.7-liter eTorque HEMI V-8 – plus a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel and 6.2-liter supercharged V-8. RAM can carry payloads up to 2300 pounds tow trailers up to 12,750 pounds.
FISKER OCEAN – The all-electric Fisker Ocean SUV features an appealing and sporty design enhanced by an attractive and uncluttered high-tech interior. It’s available in three versions with a driving range of 250 to 350 miles. Beyond its zero-emission electric drive, Fisker is committed to making the Ocean a model of sustainability with over 110 pounds of recycled materials used in its construction, including crushed carbon fiber and plastics from bottles and fishing nets.
FORD F-150 LIGHTNING PRO – The F-150 Lightning PRO available to fleets offers 240 to 320 miles of all electric range, depending on battery pack, with a payload capacity up to 2235 pounds. Towing capability up to 10,000 pounds is ideal for urban and regional applications where long-distance towing is not required, since towing can significantly reduce electric range. It’s available with Pro Power Onboard outlets for power at job sites. A Special Services Vehicle variant is made for non-pursuit police department applications.
MINI COOPER SE ELECTRIC – The fully electric MINI Cooper SE carries on the tradition of the MINI as a diminutive two-door hardtop with a fun-to-drive nature and go-kart handling, adding the important distinction of zero-emission operation. The Cooper SE Electric is an ideal vehicle for urban environments, offering a small physical footprint, easy maneuverability, and an electric driving range of 114 miles between charges.
JEEP GRAND CHEROKEE 4XE – The Grand Cherokee 4xe offers all the outstanding features of Jeep’s conventional SUV with the addition of plug-in hybrid capability. It’s powered by a 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder engine and two electric motors delivering a total of 375 horsepower. This Trail Rated Jeep features 25 miles of zero-emission on- and off-road driving and a combined 470 miles of range, can tow up to 6,000 pounds, and ford up to 24 inches of water since all high-volt electronics are sealed and waterproof.
FREEWIRE TECHNOLOGIES BOOST CHARGER – Freewire Technologies’ Boost Charger integrates lithium-ion battery storage to eliminate the need for expensive electrical service upgrades at gas stations adding EV fast charging. Phillips 66 has installed a Boost Charger at a station near its Houston headquarters and plans to leverage its network of 7,000 Phillips 66, Conoco, and 76 branded sites with additional Boost Chargers.
LI-CYCLE SPOKE & HUB TECHNOLOGIES – Li-Cycle’s Spoke & Hub system recycles end-of-life lithium-ion battery packs without requiring dismantling. Batteries undergo a submerged shredding process at regional Spoke facilities in the U.S., Canada, and Europe that produces no wastewater, with the output a black mass consisting of critical metals including lithium, cobalt, and nickel. A centralized Hub facility then processes the black mass and creates battery grade materials for reuse.
Finalists considered for this award were BMW eDrive Zones, ConnectDER, Ford Home Integration System, GM Hydrotec Fuel Cell Power Cubes, and Li-Cycle Lithium-Ion Battery Recycling.
Rising above a substantial field of ‘green’ competitors to become a Green Car Awards™ candidate is a noteworthy achievement in itself. To honor these vehicles, all finalists considered in a Green Car Awards™ category are recognized for their commendable environmental achievement with Green Car Journal’s 2023 Green Car Product of Excellence™.