AAA finds the Tesla Model S greenest car

In a comical way, Southern California AAA finds that Tesla outdoes its Tesla/Toyota car and that the Model S trumps all green car choice. AAA arrives at its conclusions is by defining what a green car is and explaining why buying a green car can be good for both you and the planet, already an arguable point. It tries to explain the differences between the various types of green cars, with their advantages and disadvantages. It also offers its real-world evaluations of green cars. This is no small task.

Tesla is the green choice

AAA-Tesla-Green-AwardAAA’s exhaustive green car list included the new wave of “green” gasoline powered cars, those that consume very little gas, hybrids (HEV), so-called clean-diesel cars, clean natural gas (CNG) vehicles, and of course, plug-in hybrids (PHEV), and EVs. By the way, notice the catchy clean trend with diesel and CNG, both fossil fuels is not going away any time soon. AAA Southern California has an extensive fleet of Smart EVs, but discovered that the Tesla Model S is really number one.

Last year’s decision to elect the Toyota RAV4 EV as the green car of the year raised much concern, since by most definitions, it is a compliance car made to meet the CARB zero emissions in the State of California. This year, AAA gave the title to the company that made the drivetrain of the former. The reason why is simple according to Steve Mazor, AAA’s Automotive Research Center Manager and Chief Engineer: “The Tesla Model S is an incredible car. It’s the fastest green car we’ve ever tested: it rides and handles very well; it’s extremely quiet and stops on a dime.”

Model S finally number 1

Although the Toyota RAV4 EV is no slouch, it is a Tesla inside and it can be seen as an early taste of what Tesla’s Model X will be: quick, fast, great handling with more space than a sedan. The Model S is the best selling sedan in its price range, something Tesla is finding it hard keeping up pace with. If you are curious, you can download AAA’s Green Car Guide here as a PDF. It will surprise you, at least, it surprised me.

Skip to page 48 if you want to get to the gist and see how the Model S scored. Then ask yourself, what has changed since the car was introduced, very few things. See where the Nissan LEAF comes in and what’s in between, then, tell us what your thoughts are. Do these guides serve a realistic purpose? Do they answer real questions, and if so, how partial are they?

Nicolas Zart

Author: Nicolas Zart

Nicolas' first car recollection at 6 years old was the back of a Bugatti 37A. After having driven an AC Propulsion eBox and the Tesla Roadster, it was clear where the future of the automobile was, the electric drive. Ever since 2006, he covers electric vehicle and alternative energy news, test driving, interviewing and filming it all.

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  • Steve Furman

    Amazing that it took this long for the Model S to reach number 1.

  • Tom Moore

    Thanks for making the PDF available. Such guides are important tools for guiding folks to what is right for them. However, I was disappointed by this guide’s description of hybrids, which is a bit too diplomatic and not very accurate:

    “Hybrids take advantage of the efficiencies of the two powertrains to increase a vehicle’s overall fuel efficiency, although not all hybrids are exceptionally fuel efficient. Electric motors are very efficient in stop-and-go city driving, and gasoline engines are more efficient when driving at higher speeds.”

    Gas engines are far less efficient than electric motors at any speed, and the problem at highway speeds is that few hybrids, with the exception of the plug ins, have sufficient power or energy supply to electrically power highway driving. The advantage of a hybrid lies almost exclusively in regenerative braking, which does come most into play during stop and go (but also downhill) driving, so it is true that much of the hybrid advantage comes in city driving. But there is no green advantage of a hybrid over a pure electric vehicle. The *only* hybrid advantage is that there are more fast filling station options for hybrids than for electrics, at present.

    As for the green ratings, I found it absurd that the Leaf comes in behind a diesel and a hybrid, and some other pure EVs are far down the list, such as Chevy Spark, Fit EV, Focus EV, Mitsubishi iMiEV and Smart EV. Apparently crash safety, braking, handling, acceleration, cargo capability and other characteristics unrelated to greenness also were weighted into the “green” scores. As long as this is openly declared, I suppose no harm is done, but I look forward to the day when cars are rated on an overall quality and usability scale, and greenness is simply taken for granted.