Thinking of abanding your internal combustion engine for an EV? There are more electric vehicles on the market than ever before. After almost a decade during which Tesla made almost all the EV options, you have many body styles and features to choose from.
Advances in battery technology are also boosting vehicle range, and an increasingly robust charging infrastructure makes electric cars more appealing than ever. Tesla sets itself apart from other manufacturers with a robust Supercharger network.
Sales are on the rise with a jump anticipated as early adopters give way to mainstream auto buyers. Experts predict that global EV sales may grow 50% or more in 2021. Many reputable auto manufacturers are introducing electric models, giving shoppers more choices than ever.
Which Electric Vehicles Are Greenest?
When shopping for an EV, how can you determine which are the greenest choices among the leading cars on the market? New criteria are emerging as more models become available (see below for a full explanation).
Electric vehicles typically produce more greenhouse gas emissions during the manufacturing process than gasoline-powered cars due to the batteries and the energy intensity of the manufacturing process, but the emissions reductions after driving the car for a year more than offsets the additional CO2 produced during manufacturing. Plants that source materials from or operate in areas with cleaner power will, therefore, produce greener cars.
The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) puts out a list of the greenest cars on the market. The rankings consider the cost of human health from air pollution from vehicle manufacturing, the production and distribution of electricity or fuel, and vehicle emissions.
“Vehicles with some form of electrification, whether hybrid or battery electric, continue to take every spot on the Greenest List,” said Eric Junga, senior transportation research analyst at ACEEE. “Despite a few automakers’ cutting back on their car fleets to focus on crossovers and SUVs, the Greenest List shows that many consumers have a range of good eco-friendly options.”
Another criterion is how efficiently a given model uses electricity because this impacts the energy needed to operate the vehicle. We partially ranked the 2020 and 2021 models based on their EPA fuel economy ratings.
Tesla Model Y – Long Range
Tesla is installing the world’s largest solar rooftop system at the Gigawatt manufacturing facility in Nevada. The battery manufacturing plant produces many of Tesla’s batteries in-house and will be 100 percent solar-powered and have on-site recycling. The rest of the manufacturing takes place in California and uses relatively clean grid electricity. Tesla has created a culture around its brand, and the company offers its own charging network.
As the Green Car Reports’ 2021 Best Car to Buy finalist, this electric SUV has some exciting features. A heat pump helps improve cold weather fuel economy and the option to have a 7-seat layout. For $10,000, car shoppers can add Full Self-Driving capabilities. A more affordable rear-wheel driver version will be coming out.
Hyundai Ioniq EV
Hyundai has an impressive line of green cars, and the company got a high ranking from Newsweek Green Rankings, especially for energy production. The Ioniq EV is also among the most efficient electric vehicles on the market, although it has a relatively limited range with its 38.3 kWh battery.
Nissan has an impressive lineup of efficient cars. The company is also known for being relatively efficient with waste but needs to make some water conservation improvements. The new and improved 2021 Leaf has a range of 149 miles. Or you can upgrade to a 62 kWh battery for a 226-mile range.
As news about the BMW diesel emissions cheating grows, trust in this brand as a green leader has waned. The i3 scores points for looks and interior but had been criticized for its limited range. Now, it can get up to 200 miles with the Range Extender. The vehicle has four seats, making it less than ideal for some households. It did, however, receive a high green score from the ACEEE.
Electric Mini Cooper
This zippy car is the most affordable vehicle on the list and has the smallest range. With a high ACEEE score, it is worth a look. It is similar in design to the iconic Hardtop 2-Door Cooper but with an electric powertrain and sporty engine. It’s an excellent choice for city driving but has minimal space.
Kia Niro EV
With a Newsweek Green Ranking of #338 among the top 500 global companies, Kia is a moderately green company with some fuel-efficient vehicles. The Nio scores high in practicality as a family car with a roomy interior and relatively large range.
This small crossover SUV is known for its strong powertrain, excellent safety features, and sleek design. The Kona was introduced in 2019 and is rapidly gaining popularity partially due to its long range.
Although Chevy is known for producing gas-guzzling cars, General Motors is producing some high-quality electric vehicles. The Bolt is manufactured in Michigan, where half of the plant is powered by solar energy or landfill gas. The company ranked #27 on Newsweek’s list of the most responsible companies among the top 500 global companies and high scores in water productivity. The Chevy Bolt is also an impressive car due to its long range from its 66 kWh battery.
Tesla Model 3 – Standard Range
The Model 3 itself is equally impressive by combining both rapid acceleration and efficiency.
Tesla Model 3 – Long Range
The Model 3 long range tops the list for vehicle range at 353 miles.
While the following EVs don’t make our list, they do stand out as new options in 2021. If you must have a high-performance model, they offer earth-friendlier options to super gas guzzlers.
Praised for being well built and a quick drive, Polestar aims to make cars that are fun to drive.
Polestar is a spinoff of Volvo, and this EV is only the second offering by this automaker known for technology and performance. This is a pricier car than others on the list and is often compared to Teslas but with a smaller range. It comes with a 78 kWh lithium-ion battery pack that fits under the floor.
Ford Mustang Mach-E
This compact SUV is the newest member of the Mustang family and the first EV from Ford. It is a finalist on the 2021 Green Car Awards for the year’s most standout green models, along with the Mini Cooper SE and Volkswagen ID.4.
Ford ranked 205 on Newsweek’s Most Responsible Companies list with a fair environmental score and relatively high social and corporate governance scores. The Mach-E has an app that can do anything from starting the car and unlocking the doors to checking the battery level, making the key fob almost unnecessary. The car has buttons instead of door handles and driver profiles that tailor range estimates with the user’s driving habits.
To download our printable comparison chart, click the image below.
Explaining Our Electric Vehicle Criteria
Many of the major automakers now feature an electric vehicle in their lineup, including Nissan, Kia, Hyundai, BMW, Chevy, Ford, Volkswagen, Audi, and Jaguar. In 2021, the Polestar 2 and Mustang Mach-E give car shoppers more electrified options. When shopping for the ideal EV for a given driver, there are many things to consider.
Electric Vehicle Range
What are your transportation needs? Do you tend to go on long trips over the weekend or do you stick pretty close to home? These are essential considerations when purchasing an electric vehicle because it is ideal to have a car that serves your needs a vast majority of the time. There are now electric vehicles on the market with ranges above 200 miles and a couple of Tesla models that easily top 300 miles.
Some EV owners rent a car occasionally when they need a longer range or find ways to charge while on the road. Some households have two or more cars and can swap around as needed to accommodate for range limitations.
Associated EV Costs and Emissions
Electric vehicles are now affordable to many car shoppers. Although the upfront cost is still typically more than a comparable gasoline-powered car, they generally have lower operating costs because they run on electricity rather than gas. The exact cost per mile depends on the rate of your electricity and the efficiency of the car itself.
EV drivers will pay less in Louisiana, Washington, Arkansas, South Carolina, and Kentucky, for example, than drivers in Hawaii, Massachusetts, California, Alaska, and Connecticut because of the cost difference of the electricity. The price of gasoline also varies by location and tends to fluctuate more than the cost of electricity. Gas prices plummeted in 2020 due to the pandemic, with the lowest average fuel costs since 2016.
Keep in mind that some utilities offer lower rates at night. It is helpful to know if your utility charges variable rates and to charge up during off-peak times.
Also, the emissions associated with electricity varies by source. EV owners who live in areas where much of their electricity is generated by fossil fuels may opt to install a solar system so they can run the vehicle with clean energy.
Federal Tax Credit for New Electric Vehicles
EV buyers can take advantage of up to $7,500 tax credit for purchasing an electric vehicle. The size of the credit depends on the price of the vehicle and its battery capacity. Tax credits are more valuable to taxpayers than write-offs because they result in a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed. That means that a $5,000 tax credit reduces your tax liability by $5,000. Speak to your tax preparer to get more information on how to benefit from a tax credit on your taxes.
Keep in mind that used electric vehicles do not qualify for the tax credit. Also, the tax credit doesn’t result in instant savings. You benefit from the credit after you file your taxes, which is probably months after purchasing the vehicle.
Driving an all-electric vehicle requires vehicle charging. Because home charging is so convenient, most EV owners do more than 80% of their total charging at home. This might change as more rapid chargers are available for EV drivers on the go, taking as little as 30 minutes to charge.
Knowing the charging options where you drive can help you determine what range you need from an electric vehicle, especially if you tend to drive long distances.
It is possible to charge most electric vehicles with a 120-volt plug, but this takes many hours. Some EV drivers install a Level 2 charging station at home for faster charging.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published on November 23, 2018. We updated the EV ratings in January 2021.