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Prius Is Dirtier To Build Than Corolla...But Greener Than A Hummer

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2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

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Which is greener: a Toyota Prius or a Toyota Corolla? They're both roughly the same size, and when you think quick, it seems that the Prius would be the no-brainer choice for greenies. The Prius, after all, gets an EPA Combined 50 mpg, while the Corolla gets (an EPA Combined) 30 at best.

But if you think a little more about it, the question gets a little more complicated: What about the extra raw materials that go into a hybrid's battery pack? What about its longer assembly process, and its more complex powertrain?

Those all take additional energy, right?

Turns out it's not so relevant over the long haul. From peer-reviewed papers from top-notch environmental and scientific sources, it's been found that extraction of raw materials and assembly of motor vehicles take relatively small amounts of energy next to the energy that a vehicle will use over its lifetime. According to a 2000 report from the MIT Energy Laboratory, about 75 percent of the lifetime carbon emissions come from the fuel it burns, and another 19 percent comes from the production of fuel.

And that's why, in determining our High Gear Media Green Ratings, we give kudos and tiebreaker nudges for special green manufacturing claims, but rate vehicles based on energy use.

And when it comes to energy use (at least before the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf hit the market), the Prius is still the most fuel-efficient passenger car on the market. That can be seen either in the EPA's fuel economy ratings, or in the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide.

2008 HUMMER H2

2008 HUMMER H2

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Several years ago, a controversial non-peer-reviewed study had suggested that, dust-to-dust or cradle-to-cradle, through the entire lifecycle, including research and development and everything through recycling, a HUMMER would do less damage to the environment than a Prius. A big Prius vs HUMMER controversy erupted around that challenge—and sparked this piece, one of The Car Connection's most popular stories ever.

Toyota at that time had cited some of that scientific research showing that end-of-life recycling and disposal use disproportionately small amounts of energy, but at that time the automaker didn't have any numbers to share about how much the Prius takes to manufacture, compared to its non-hybrid compact models, for instance.

According to Automotive News, Toyota has taken up the topic, and revealed that it did indeed find that during the "materials manufacturing" stage of the Prius' lifecycle, it is worse than average for the class in five emissions categories. Toyota has used the results in its redesigns of the Prius, along with other hybrids such as the Lexus RX 450h and Lexus HS 250h.

So the Prius might take a little more energy than average to make. But is it greener than a HUMMER? You bet.

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Comments (10)
  1. I had the great misfortune of renting a Prius from Enterprise Renta Car at the Reno Airport. Very impressive until I was half way between Reno and Carson City (Read: Nowhere) when the battery quit. Nothing would work and the vehicle was virtually immovable. It took m,e four hours to get a tow truck that would tow it back to the airport. Never again!
    Another concern is: How can these giant baterry packs be recycled when the time comes and where?? It strikes me that whatever the process may be, it must be extremely an extremely toxic enterprise (Pun Intended)
     
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  2. Whoever wrote this article obviously knows nothing about fuel economy. Mileage is completely determined by the road and the way the driver drives their vehicle. This is why the EPA has estimates, not precise miles per gallon, being it is imposssibly to determine. A Corvette or Camaro can achieve just as great mileage as a Corolla if driven nicely and a few miles slower. The first few sentences state a Corolla gets 30 at best, and seeing so, none of this article is probably accurate.
     
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  3. @Joseph P, Obviously...
    Actually, the Prius really does get an EPA Combined 50 and the Corolla really gets an EPA Combined 30 in its most efficient form, with the five-speed manual (26 mpg city, 35 highway). Since a recalibration of EPA ratings for 2008, we've found the EPA Combined numbers to be slightly higher than what we typically see in real-world combined driving conditions. Although the EPA numbers are estimates, they're scientifically reproducible, from rigid testing procedures and a set driving cycle.
    Yes, if you're cruising steadily and keep speed down, you can obtain impressive mpg figures in most vehicles -- more than 30 in a Camaro or Corvette, more than 40 in a Corolla (or 70 or more in a Prius, as we've seen a few times) -- but most real-world driving conditions, like traffic and hills, don't permit that.
     
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  4. Maybe - but who really wants to drive a freakin Prius - seriously! I live in what can be considered a significant cold climate and Hybrid/Electric start loosing their edge in the cold - and once you put REAL snow tires on them...
    Plus - it is a Prius - the smug it generates amongst it drivers is intolerable!
    I'll stick to my small 8's and big 6's thank you - just direct inject them and when needed "something"-charge them and I'll be happy.
    Plus - Toyota/Lexus has lost their shiny quality gleam in my eyes. Just waiting for that next round of denied problems to surface!
     
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  5. Greeneest thing to do is drive your good old V8 instead of crushing it and buying new japanese junk - think about it - first what a waste of perfectly good car all its components, then whole manufacturing process of this new toyota and atop of that shipping it from Japan…
     
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  6. If it was obvious and you just supported me, why are you attacking me instead of the article? This doesn't make any logical sense.
     
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  7. Prius Is Dirtier To Build Than Corolla...But Greener Than A Hummer. You need to fact check this article. You also need to quit misleading the public about the Hummer article. It was full of questionable statistics that made the entire piece silly such as the shelf life of a Hummer....by the way, a Hummer H2 is illegal to drive in almost every community in the country as they weigh over three tons. They are also illegal to drive on the Pasadena Freeway in California.
     
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  8. I'm not sure where some of the people commenting today crawled out of... @Joseph - Ask yourself a question - Will a Corvette get the same mileage as a Corolla under the same conditions? Then what are you talking about??? Corolla gets 30 MPG mixed under the same conditions that other cars with higher or lower MPG are measured, period. @Norman - Battery died... so what? Some renter left it discharged for too long and it got damaged. $50 batteries die; Toyota doesn't even make them. What does it have to do with the overall quality of Prius? I hope you don't think you're talking about the nickel-metal hydride battery since those can be completely dead on the hybrid and the engine will just drive it 100% of the time... I rented a Malibu once that couldn't drive straight and the tires were worn - so what does that mean? Am I going to badmouth all Malibus or GM now? @BigAssCanuck - They obviously don't make the Prius for you. Stick to your big engines - just keep in mind it does nothing for your size. @Shaman - Using your "logic" the greenest car would still be a mid- to late 90s Corolla built in the NUMMI plant instead of the bigger junk made at that time mainly in Mexico and Canada that would get you 185 HP out of the V8 - that does make Hummers look green.
     
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  9. @Shaman: Actually, you're incorrect in saying that it's greener to drive an older low-mileage vehicle rather than buying a new, higher-mileage one. The fuel a car consumes over its lifetime makes up roughly four-fifths or more of its carbon emissions profile, so fuel efficiency plays by far the largest role in its environmental footprint.
    For a more detailed explanation, see here:
    http://www.highgearmedia.com/blog/about-our-green-car-ratings
    The MIT study referenced in that piece estimates that fully 75 percent of a vehicle’s lifetime carbon emissions come from the fuel it burns over its lifetime, with another 19 percent coming from the production of that fuel.
    Extraction of the raw materials that make up the vehicle adds another 4 percent, and only 2 percent of lifetime carbon is due to the manufacturing and assembly process.
     
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  10. @josephP... his comment wasn't an attack it clearly and concisely rebutted your comment. Stop being a troll, if you can't take someone retorting on a comment you make then don't make a comment in the first place. It is quite obvious that cars can have good mileage under perfect conditions, but most of us don't drive in perfect conditions and besides who buys a camaro or corvette to go "a few miles slower".
     
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