It seems like a question from the preliminary round of some TV game show: Name the automotive brand that's best for the environment.
Hey, it's got to be Toyota or Honda, right? After all, they're the hybrid kings.
Sorry, that's incorrect.
According to the J.D. Power and Associates 2006 Alternative Powertrain Study, Volkswagen is the highest-ranking nameplate on something called the Automotive Environmental Index.
Yep, the same Volkswagen that crammed a 12-cylinder engine into the Phaeton comes out on top of the latest list that tries to put order in the green universe for people who care about that sort of thing.
How could that be?
The Power folks won't reveal the exact formula they use to concoct the Automotive Environmental Index but admit that there are four factors: tailpipe pollutants; greenhouse gases, meaning carbon dioxide; EPA fuel economy ratings; and something called the voice of the consumer.
After a little knuckles-and-know-how interrogation, Power revealed that "voice of the consumer" isn't just mumbo jumbo or a fudge factor. It's the difference between the EPA fuel economy and the mileage reported by the consumers in the study.
Ah-ha! That explains part of the VW mystery. Since the Honda Accord is the only gasoline-electric hybrid from which consumers said they got better mileage than what the feds said they would, all the other hybrids were marked down.
The other part of the puzzle is that VW has plenty of diesels and no trucks. Nor did VW sell enough 12-cylinder Phaetons to affect the sales-weighted average. So that's why Volkswagen nosed out Honda. Mazda finished third, followed by Saturn, Kia, Hyundai and, finally, Toyota in seventh place.
In all, 15 out of 37 automotive brands were represented among the top 30 green models, which means 22 brands weren't.
I'm still not sure I understand the Power environmental index or if it's the best way to measure degrees of greenness. But I do get the business model.
Consumers know the J.D. Power brand. And with a growing number of car buyers looking for fuel-efficient and green vehicles, a high ranking in the new Power index might influence some shoppers. If consumers care, carmakers that do well will pay to use yet another Power index in their ads.
That's the green that matters.
You may e-mail Edward Lapham at [email protected]