When we think about cars on the road and their environmental and economic impact we typically think of certain hot button topics. We might think of fuel economy or alternative methods of powering our vehicles. We might think of the impact of factories and cars globally and locally. We might think about pollution from manufacturing and from consumption (driving). We might think about the life cycle of the vehicles we purchase or whether to buy new or used. There are numerous issues we can chat about surrounding cars as a dominant form of transportation but one we rarely talk about, at least in my opinion, is parking. We live in a car obsessed culture and we need somewhere to park our beloved cars. What is the impact though?
All over the country you will see businesses surrounded by huge parking lots, many of the spaces sitting empty unless it is during peak shopping hours. I have always thought it seemed like an incredible waste of land but what are retailers to do? They want to make sure every potential customer has a place to park to encourage shopping. If they don’t do this then they lose sales right? Consumerism drives our economy so we do have to be concerned with the economics of parking.
We also need to be concerned with the environmental impact of parking. There IS an environmental impact. Remember the Joni Mitchell song… “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot”. It is not just an issue of aesthetics. We lose land to build these huge, wasteful structures and they are not eco friendly in the least. Think about the unsustainable building materials being used and all the land being used inefficiently. According to a new report, there are an estimated 3 to 8 parking spaces available for every car on the road. That is a lot of unused space!
Of course some municipalities are going vertical and creating parking structures and garages. This report though shows that between 80-90% of parking demand is still served by surface lots (outward expansion, waste of land/space). Building and maintaining these lots and structures needs to be added to the cumulative planetary impact of driving cars as they bring more soot, carbon dioxide, and sulfur emissions into the mix. These expansive lots are also for the most part impermeable. The runoff from rainwater is directed to sewers or into local rivers and streams instead of being allowed to be absorbed into the soil as it would under normal circumstances and this creates its own set of problems and issues for the ecosystem and for local water management systems. One of those problems is that it introduces oil, metals, and other nasty chemicals from the surface into our water supply.
We also need to think about the effect on climate change. These huge lots paved with dark asphalt and concrete are creating urban heat islands that can almost certainly ratchet up the temperature. Scientists are actually taking a harder look at this very thing and some think that parking lots may be worse for climate change than the CO2 from cars. Something to think about…
To help change this landscape and reduce the need for so much parking, businesses and city planners are getting savvier where they can. A new trend has evolved as highlighted by the infographic below. It was made in conjunction with the aforementioned report by a company that sells parking signs. The trends they see in what signs are selling is actually very telling. More businesses are buying signs that are aimed to increase customer turnover. When customers are only allowed to park for 20 minutes or less then the business should be able to accommodate more people with fewer spaces. Structured, organized, and tight parking control can serve as a viable alternative to sprawling lots and I am happy to see the emergence of this trend. What do you think?
FREE PARKING FALLACIES – a MyParkingSign report
The hybrid versus the non hybrid. It is something I think about often because we all know that a hybrid makes better sense environmentally but it become unclear when you consider the economics. For years I have wrestled with justifying a hybrid purchase and not been able to do so. It all comes down to how much money you are willing to put behind your green ideals and theoretically we might all like to think we could put our money where our mouth is but some of us just don’t have the money to do so. Sadly hybrids are out of reach for a great many people. Thus they have to choose the best car they can with the resources they have and that is unlikely to be a hybrid, as shown by this infographic below.
What do you think? When you have a limited budget can you justify the purchase of a hybrid over a regular sedan with great fuel economy?
I spent the early part of the week in Detroit attending the North American International Auto Show and an event sponsored by Ford Motor Company. This is my second go round at this amazing show and this year was no less exciting. The highlight for me of course is seeing what is on the market for green cars and what is going to be coming up on the horizon. I thought last year had a large green focus but this year was the same so I am hopeful that this means the future is looking bright for sustainable vehicles.
I will point out my favorite Ford vehicles first since they were the largest focus group for me while I was there. I am a huge Ford fan and I went into the event thinking that if 2013 is finally the year that my 14 year old car kicks the bucket and I buy new or new-used, I would like to get either a Focus or a Fiesta. After the show I am of the same mind but now leaning even more towards the Fiesta. I just adore small little cars, which is a big change for me because as a younger woman I was all about the bad ass trucks. Well there plenty of those at the show but they didn’t get much of my attention. I dig small cars with great fuel economy now. I guess I just have a very practical head on my shoulders too because luxury names like Lincoln and Tesla mean less than nothing to me and I don’t want to spend on a car what I could buy a house for here in Ohio.
But I digress…the car that had me salivating was this salmon colored Fiesta. I love the look, I adore the color, it has excellent fuel economy (40 mpg), and the price is rockin (from about 14,000).
It is not a hybrid or electric vehicle but the great fuel economy and price puts it tops on my short list. It is an excellent car for those that cannot afford the typical “green car” price but still want a greener ride.
Also on my list is the Focus EV. The price is higher but you save money in the long run when you are able to “fill up” for only $2.00. Like the Fiesta (above) this car will also likely have soy and recycled jeans in the interior and Ford is working with coconuts, soy, corn, wood fibers, wheatgrass, and other natural materials to make plant based plastics for other car components. I did not find any other car company at the show that could boast this and we asked!
The Ford C-Max is another great green option. It reminds me of the Fiesta but just a tad bigger and with a hybrid and plugin hybrid boost. It gets about 47 mpg. It’s ready to take on the Prius apparently because it was just named the world’s greenest car. It wasn’t my personal fave but I hear nothing but good things.
It also needs to be said that MANY of the Ford cars that are not green per say can be bought with an Eco Boost engine. It may not be glamorous like a hybrid or an EV but it is a big improvement on efficiency and performance. Other car companies seemed to lack anything similar.
Also on my radar was the Eco-Chic Fiat 500e. Okay what was I saying about luxury cars having no sway over me??? Well this Fiat is just too cute for words and its all electric. It takes 4 hours to charge and it gets 108 MPGe. I also found one in an orangey/salmon color scheme, which seems to be my car color of choice. Hello gorgeous! You are probably out of my price range and you may only be a 4 seater (not sure) but I do so love you…
Another interesting green car was the Nissan Leaf electric which was rather sporty looking and had a really nifty looking gear shift that reminded me of a video game console. It gets 106 MPGe and it starts at 27K.
The Chevy Spark EV was another cute car and I really liked the fact that the battery is supposedly made up of sections that can be replaced individually and at less cost than EVs that require an all new battery after 5-10 years. It is also said to be the fastest charging EV and the price is about 25K.
Then of course there is the well known Toyota Prius. They are well established and well loved among the green car community. They are gorgeous cars.
Also among the Toyota offerings was this car we may see in 2015… a Hydrogen Fuel-cell car that had seats that reminded me of robots. Weird!
Another hot green car that everyone seemed to be dying over was the Tesla EV but I think the price tag makes it too outrageous to even merit a discussion…ahem 50-60K. Yeah, no dice.
I am incredibly excited to see that 2013 was once again a banner year for green cars at the NAIAS.
In just a couple days I will be boarding a plane to Detroit where I will be attending the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) for the second year in a row. Last year was really my intro to the world of greener, more fuel efficient, and more planet friendly car options and choices. I was always keen on the idea but since I was not in the market for a car I never investigated what was out there and I never realized just how many strides have already been taken to give us better options for our transportation.
I learned so much last year. I took two trips to Detroit, attended the big auto show, compared the greener cars on the market, went behind the scenes at testing and design facilities, and test drove several greener cars including the all electric Focus and many other Ford cars with an Eco Boost engine. Later on I got to borrow a few cars for extended test drives, lasting a week roughly and see first hand how they drove and if they lived up to the hype. I now feel reasonably educated on what I want to buy for myself (when the time comes) and what I can feel good recommending to others. So here are my top five picks for greener cars you may want to buy in 2013…
1. The Mitsubish i
This is an insanely adorable, all electric car and I fell in love with it…HARD. You can read about my full experience here but it was difficult to let this go and difficult not to compare other cars to it. It is whisper quiet and although it looks small it is actually very roomy and luxurious. I loved that it forced me to be a smarter and more mindful driver because you only have so much juice before you need to plug the car in and recharge the battery. You are operating on battery power and therefore can’t just slip into the nearest fueling station to fill up. You have to plan your trips and perhaps drive less overall to make it work. The the average cost to drive it is $3.60 per 100 miles which makes it a big money saver and the cost of the car is also incredibly reasonable.
The starting MSRP is $29,125 making the starting price for this car several thousand less than other comparable electric vehicles available in the market.
2. The Ford Focus Electric
Another snazzy car, no? This is an all electric car, completely battery powered and also whisper quiet to drive. It can take a bit to get used to just how quiet they are but you grow to love it. This car, unlike the one above, is also a five passenger vehicle…the first on the market actually. This means big bonus points from this five member family. Ford cars are very sustainable in a variety of ways too. They use soy and recycled jeans in their interiors and they are working with coconuts, soy, corn, wood fibers, wheatgrass, and other natural materials to make plant based plastics for other car components. The interior is beautiful as are the color choices for the exterior. The range on the car is supposed to be about 85-100 miles on the battery and the starting price is $39,900.
3. The Ford Fusion Hybrid
The Fusion was not only the darling of the auto show last year is has been named Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. This is in large part due to its 47 mpg fuel efficiency and the low emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide, in comparison to other cars. 90% of the car is recyclable and they are working on all the plastic components to eventually bring that to 100% according to the chief engineer that worked on the Fusion. The Energi model (plugin hybrid) of this car gets a whopping 100+ MPGe! Wow! I am also in love with the green color you see on the model above.
4. The Mazda 3i
There is much to love about this car and it is just a regular car…not a hybrid or an electric. What makes that okay though is the price, $16,700 to $24,350, and the fuel economy. It gets about 40 highway mpg/28 city but I drove this car around in the city for the most part and averaged 35.2 mpg! It may not be the greenest car out there bit for that price and that mileage, it is a keeper for those that cannot afford the price tag often associated with greener cars. I love the navigation and the hands free phone option as well as the heated seats, booyah! Read my entire review here.
4. The Kia Optima Hybrid
This was the first hybrid I got to drive and it took awhile to get used to but I warmed up quickly to it. It gets bonus points for being very spacious, luxurious, and pretty too. What I loved most about this car was the Start button that you use instead of a key. It meant I never had to search for keys in my purse because as long as they were in fact IN my purse that was close enough and the car would start. It will also turn off if you leave it on and walk away. Nice! As for actual driving…The Optima engine cuts off when stopped or the electrical load is low. This saves fuel and reduces emissions. Also any time the breaks are applied the Regenerative Breaking System charges the battery.
This hybrid gets 34 city MPG and 39 Highway MPG, which isn’t as high as some other hybrids. The price tag is lower though…around $25,700 to $27,150 for intro and mid range models. Read my full review here.
I hope this article helps you if you are going to look for a greener car in 2013. It should at the very least give you some leads! Enjoy!
Last week I had the pleasure of cruising around Columbus in a Kia Optima Hybrid. It is a bit pricier than most of the other cars I have gotten to test drive of late and it was my first hybrid. My previous experience has mostly been with regular vehicles that have great fuel economy or all electric cars. I was really jazzed to get a behind the wheel of a hybrid. It took a little while to get used to because it is a very different drive.
The Optima gets an A+ for looks that for sure. It is very stylish and fairly large and spacious inside. This model was not the highest end model which has leather seats but I actually liked the look and feel of the cloth seats in this vehicle. I would not go for a light beige interior myself, because I have kids, but I am not a fan of how hot leather is in summer and how cold it is in winter so the mid range model is a perfect fit for me. Though I must add that the top of the line model has heated seats so the winter cold seats issue wouldn’t really be an issue. I do love that option. The base price starts at $25,700. The model I drove was $27,150. It has a 10 year/100,000 mile limited powertrain warranty.
My favorite feature on the Kia Optima is the Push Button Start and Smart Key (below). It actually did not start out being a plus in my mind because I had the habit of tossing the key in the cupholder and then on the first day I forgot it was there and went inside the house leaving the key in the car. I remembered right away but kept thinking this was a car theft situation waiting to happen. Then I had my “Doh!” moment when I realized that I didn’t even have to take the key out of my purse. That realization made this feature quite awesome. All I had to do was grab my purse and toss it on the seat next to me, push the button, and away we went. If I wanted to lock it I could just reach a finger into my purse and activate (or deactivate) the locks. Easy peasy and no more searching for misplaced keys because they never needed to leave my purse!
When you push the start button the car has a lyrical chime and the screen behind the steering wheel welcomes you. It doesn’t sound as though the car is even on because it is in EV mode. When you step on the gas it switches into regular, non electric, mode. It will go back into EV mode when idling at a light, stopping for traffic, etc. It takes awhile to get used to how quiet it is. It also takes some time to get used to the kick between EV mode and regular because it isn’t always smooth. At first I found it very jerky and was not so much a fan but as with any car you begin to get your sea legs and it rides smoother once you are familiar with it. I appreciate the system though. The Kia engine cuts off when stopped or the electrical load is low. This saves fuel and reduces emissions. Any time the breaks are applied the Regenerative Breaking System charges the battery.
Fuel economy according to the Monroney sticker is 34 city MPG and 39 Highway MPG. I mostly drove around in the city and got 31.2 average MPG. That average did start to go up when I drove across town on the highway to take the kids to a movie but it went back down once I was back in the city. No big shocker there. I liked that the display screen has a tree with leaves and blossoms on it and the better you drive, the more flowers you have. It was nice to see that while driving (as an option) and gauge how eco friendly my driving was. Very often I had 7 of the 8 flowers and one time I managed to get all 8!! I was super stoked. ;)
Other nice features include the Bluetooth Wireless technology available. It allows you to talk on the phone hands free, using your steering wheel to answer and end calls and adjust volume. All of this is designed to help you keep your eyes on the road. It has cruise control of course (which is what allowed me to get that coveted 8th flower) and USB port to plug my phone or iPod into. The songs display on the 2nd screen (above the radio) too (love that). That same screen also displays the view from the rear view camera. This allows you to see behind you when backing out. I just adore this feature in cars, it makes backing out at grocery stores so helpful. You obviously have to look around to see if other cars or people are coming up on you but the camera allows you to look for children, who may fall below your window view area, and it tells you in no uncertain terms how close you are to other parked cars.
Also notable are the fantastic safety ratings of this car and the fact that it is manufactured in the US – West Point, GA to be exact. If you want American made cars that support American jobs then this car is a good purchase. That is not to say that all Kia’s are made here in the US, but the Optima is. I really enjoyed getting to take it for a spin!
Disclosure: I borrowed a Kia Optima for the purposes of this review. Sadly I had to give it back…