This is in descending order from No. 7 to No. 1.
Hope everyone has a great weekend! Enjoy the barbecue and fireworks or what ever else you do.
A Chevy Volt paused in front of Philadelphia’s Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed July 4, 1776.
Happy Independence Day America!
Now, how would you like freedom from petroleum dependence, less concern about geopolitical instability, while enjoying positive environmental and economic effects that could follow?
For four decades since a wake-up call known as the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, we’ve been chasing an elusive goal called “energy independence.”
Some who point to now-accessible petroleum and natural gas via fracking and horizontal drilling have already declared energy independence, saying America is on its way to becoming self sufficient.
Be this as it may, that energy is not without environmental consequences, and we still spend close to $1 billion per day importing 40 percent our oil – around the 35 percent we did in 1973 when OPEC punished the U.S. for its support of the Yom Kippur War.
Today, nearly 70 percent of petroleum in the U.S. is used for transportation, and of this 65 percent is for our personal vehicles.
Without wading into a morass of political, economic, and technological discussion, we’ll declare a simple truism: Using less oil means we’d need less.
This sentiment has been widely shared, including by Nobel physicist and former U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.
“The most direct way to reduce our dependency on foreign oil is to simply use less of it, starting with the cars and trucks we drive,” he said. “Energy independence means changing how we power our cars and trucks from foreign oil to new American-made fuels and batteries.”
SEE ALSO: Is Electricity a Clean Energy Source?
To highlight some of the best antidotes for an America “addicted to oil” as former President G.W Bush once ironically said, we’ve compiled a top-7 list of cars.
These are ranked as those which most contribute or stand to contribute – without detracting from quality of life or personal mobility.
Most are either produced by U.S. automakers, or produced in the U.S., adding to their independence quotient, if you will.
As of 2014, the average new car gets around 23 mpg combined, and federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy targets ramping up through 2025 set a bar of close to 45 mpg for the average car and 32 mpg for the average truck.
The cars on our list would all pass that 2025 level today, and if everyone who could in America were to switch to these, do you think we’d be as worried about what is happening in the Middle East? And, how could they contribute to reduced greenhouse gas emissions?
Granted sales for most of them are still a drop in the bucket against the overall market, so consider this as forward looking, with vehicles considered for their outsized potential influence today and in years to come.
No. 7. Toyota Prius Liftback
The Prius Liftback, as it’s now called has given rise to a “family” of three variant Prius models, and the Prius began as a minor revolution in America in 2000 alongside the Honda Insight hybrid.
Today the market of alternative energy cars and trucks tracked by the HybridCars.com sales Dashboard consists of dozens of vehicles, but the 50-mpg Prius is by far the top seller by no less than a ratio of 3:1 over any other next-best-selling green car.
Compared to the most squeaky-clean plug-in hybrids operating in electric mode and pure electric vehicles, the Prius is a gas guzzler needing $1,100 worth of fuel per 15,000 miles.
However, its fuel economy is still better than twice the $2,400 in fuel needed by an average car sold today, and one-third what an SUV or pickup needs.
Toyota’s mid-sized hybrid hatch furthermore has shown what successful branding can do to make an environmentally sensible car acceptable to a mainstream audience.
Because of the Prius, by 2013 Toyota had sold five million hybrid variants across its global lines which all use the “Hybrid Synergy Drive” architecture pioneered in the Prius.
Now in its third generation, with a fourth pending for 2015, the Prius is a grandfather of a new market segment, has directly and indirectly saved a lot of oil, and this is something anyone wanting to one day see “energy independence” can appreciate.
No. 6. BMW i3
Of all cars on this list, BMW’s just-released-in-the-U.S. i3 is the most debatable, but it’s here because, 1) the pure EV version is the most energy efficient car sold in the U.S., and 2) it represents a bold commitment by BMW as the first of a new sub brand.
Mindful of conditions in Europe, other emerging markets, and North America, BMW is committing itself to a sustainable upscale city car with optional gas-burning range extender adding to its potential flexibility and usefulness.
So far it’s only been on the U.S. market for a couple months and is not taking the country by storm with 300-some units per month.
We acknowledge BMW however for offering it in all 50 states when domestic automakers have more affordable EVs like the Chevy Spark EV and Ford Focus Electric that could sell in higher volume, but have not yet offered them outside limited markets.
As we’ve seen by EV makers Tesla and Nissan, buyers reward those who are all in, so while BMW is still only just getting started, it gets honorable mention here.
No. 5. Ford C-Max Energi
The C-Max Energi is a plug-in hybrid rated at 88 miles per gallon equivalent, or 38 mpg combined.
That “38 mpg” itself would place it in the No. 2 best spot on the list of non-hybrid fuel sippers, and it’s a five-passenger family car that’s as quick to 60 mph or the quarter mile (low 15s) as some 5.0 Mustangs from the early 90s.
Annual fuel costs are around the same as a Prius by the way the government figures things, but drivers who stay in the 19-miles of all-electric power – or double this by charging at their destination – can do far better.
Priced in the mid-30s, the C-Max Energi is a part-time EV with no range anxiety, thus it could serve the needs of anyone who does not need a truck or larger vehicle.
If used as intended, this vehicle could save lots of fuel with no real downside perceived.
No. 4. Ford Fusion Energi
Everything just said about the C-Max Energi’s efficiency is true of the Fusion Energi plug-in hybrid, and it is a stylish car that is essentially indistinguishable from other Fusions on the road.
The five-passenger mid-sized sedan and the C-Max Energi were demoted in their EPA rating recently, but that did not stop Ford from crushing its previous best sales of 1,342 units in May by 45 percent, or 1,939 in June.
Priced from the mid-30s, it’s not cheap, but it’s not in an elite category by any stretch either.
Given that it, like the C-Max Energi, resorts to regular parallel hybrid mode much like a Prius or Camry Hybrid when the battery is exhausted, it hits a lot of high spots, including no range anxiety and efficiency everywhere.
No 3. Tesla Model S
The all-electric sedan available in 60-kwh and 85-kwh versions, and starting at around $70,000 is double the average new car price, but still selling in significant numbers and making waves.
We listed the Model S, 1) because it burns no petroleum, but also, 2) because it represents a whole disruptive move within the transportation sector.
Its range is from 208 to 265 miles according to the EPA and this is easily double or more than most other EVs sold.
As mentioned, the boldness of the gambit of this car sold by a company that only sells EVs, and wants to sell them anywhere it can globally, is creating momentum and people are paying attention to its audaciousness.
Yes, the jury is still out, but since around this time in 2012, Tesla has nabbed every award conceivable – an amazing feat for a start-up – and it’s outselling many established luxury cars, challenging their makers to think – and possibly innovate – differently.
Tesla Motors’s next car will be a similarly powered Model X SUV, and after that a car close to half the Model S’ entry point that would not likely ever be in the works if not for the Model S.
No. 2. Nissan Leaf
Manufactured now in Tennessee – and closer to local point of consumption for Europe and Japan at two other plants – Nissan’s Leaf is the global best seller among EVs, and presently the top-selling plug-in car in the U.S.
Priced from the high 20s, it is rated at 84 miles range, but cost per mile on gas-free driving is around 3.6 cents at the nationally average electricity rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
The vehicle is being marketed as aggressively as possible by a company – and CEO Carlos Ghosn with pride and reputation on the line.
It has been on the U.S. market since December 2010 and is the first of the new wave of EVs and still a benchmark.
No. 1. Chevrolet Volt
Launched also in December 2010, the Volt has had a turbulent ride in the public’s eye even if it has topped Consumer Reports’ owner satisfaction ratings in 2011 and 2012, and still enjoys high marks from raving fans.
The “extended-range electric” car offers the highest all-electric range of 38 miles of any plug-in gas-electric car, and its 37 mpg – albeit on premium gas – would rank it tied for second on the list of most fuel efficient non-hybrids sold in America.
The Volt is a solution that was engineered to meet the needs of 74 percent of average consumer’s daily driving of under 40 miles per day in electric power only.
Its battery pack has proven durable due to liquid cooling and active thermal management in all weather, and GM conservatively set the car up to last while topping safety ratings as well.
It was released the same month as the Leaf and while sales are flattening out as a new generation is being promised next year, it is yet the highest selling plug-in car in the U.S. since launch.
After the original Volt Team of ace engineers built this “moonshot” that has won a laundry list of awards, General Motors keeps it going, unfortunately marketing it mostly in California.
Volt fans still lament on the GM-Volt forum that many people they talk to still do not know what a remarkable car it is. It starts at $35,000 and can qualify for up $7,500 in federal tax credits and state credits where applicable.
The Volt is built in Detroit, has inspired imitators, while still being in several respects a top act to follow as it nears the end of its product life cycle.
On Independence Day, underappreciated as it has been, it is our pick for the car contributing most to energy security, having sent the most ripples into a growing pond.