In the minds of many, Toyota's Prius has long been considered synonymous with hybrid cars. Praised as being ahead of its time and the darling of Hollywood and Silicon Valley types, the Prius quickly gained iconic status amongst the green set when it was first unveiled a few years back. Its long reign at the top, however, may soon be coming to an end: a new ranking of environmentally friendly vehicles from researchers at Cardiff University and consultancy Clifford Thames has determined that cleaner versions of conventional cars are fast catching up and may soon be poised to overtake it.
A few smaller cars in their ranking - including Fiat's Panda, BMW's Mini Cooper Diesel hatchback and Toyota's own Yaris - already outperform the Prius on emissions and on their overall "footprint". In an attempt to craft a ranking that would better encompass vehicles' overall environmental impact, the researchers gave carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide and other emissions a 50% weighing and the vehicles' construction, energy and end-of-life costs another 50%. "There's a big focus on exhaust emissions, but they're only part of the story," said David Riemenschneider, Clifford Thames's chief executive.Though many of the vehicles they included in the ranking belonged to a smaller size class than the Prius - a crucial aspect they acknowledge makes for an unequal comparison - other low-emission models they evaluated, which include forthcoming cleaner diesel and petrol cars, were judged to be greener in a side-by-side comparison. ""We're not saying that any car that is the same size as the Prius is better, but the gap is closing very rapidly, and conventional technologies will pass the Prius," said another Clifford Thames researcher.
Examples of tweaks to conventional technologies that will help narrow the gap include tires with reduced rolling resistance, "stop-start" devices that turn off cars' ignitions when they stop and much improved diesel particulate filters. Some industry analysts have criticized hybrid technology as an interim solution and one that only works for drivers who cover short distances. Many are confident a new wave of innovations prompted by growing consumer concern over carbon footprints and emissions will help boost the fortunes of conventional vehicles.
Given the unprecedented level of success attained by the Prius, it remains to be seen whether consumers will be willing to dump hybrids in short shrift and, more importantly, whether Toyota will just let its rivals beat it at its own game.
Via ::Financial Times: Closing the gap in the race to be green (newspaper), ::Financial Times: Prius loses ground to other cars (newspaper)
See also: ::Toyota Unveils Plug-in Prius, ::Prius Envy? Honda to Battle Toyota on Green Performance, and Looks, ::Now More Than a Million Toyota Hybrids
Image courtesy of vernieman via flickr