• A recent study claims that Hyundai and Kia make the greenest cars
  • Big Three American automakers lag behind foreign competition
  • Study based on emissions data and fuel economy numbers

A new study from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) claims that Hyundai-Kia is the greenest automaker in the industry, after examining automotive emissions and fuel economy data for new 2013 models sold between October 2012 and September 2013.

The study, which has been released six times since 2000, uses several factors in making its assessment of the greenest automaker. The first is the per-mile emissions figures for all vehicles sold by each automaker. After that, the organization looks at fuel economy, fuel type and overall sales volume of each vehicle type sold by each automaker. As a result, you'd expect the greenest brand to have a wide range of popular small cars that feature low-emissions engines primarily powered by regular gas.

Not surprisingly, that's exactly the case at Hyundai-Kia. A large portion of Hyundai-Kia car sales include compact, midsize and subcompact vehicles, which mostly use 4-cylinder engines with good emissions profiles. Some of Hyundai-Kia's most popular models include vehicles such as the Hyundai Elantra, Kia Rio, Kia Soul and Hyundai Sonata, which offer excellent fuel economy and smaller engines.

So which automakers are the least green? Since the study primarily focused on major automakers, specialty brands known for their inefficient lineups -- such as Bentley, Lamborghini and Ferrari -- were out. Instead, bringing up the rear are the Big Three American automakers: Chrysler, General Motors and Ford. While each of those brands has made significant strides in fuel economy and emissions, they still sell a wide variety of SUVs and pickups, which means they're unlikely to find themselves near the top of the UCS study anytime soon.

In general, however, news for the automotive industry is good. The Union of Concerned Scientists says today's average new car is 43 percent cleaner than the average new car in 1998, which is a major jump in just 15 years. And it's likely that cars will continue to get cleaner over time as tightening fuel economy and emissions regulations force automakers to improve their green statuses.

What it means to you: If you're interested in a green new car, the Hyundai-Kia lineup might be the place for you to start your search.

author photo

Doug DeMuro has a wide range of automotive industry experience, from work at a Ferrari dealership to a manager for Porsche North America. A lifelong car enthusiast, Doug's eclectic vehicle purchases include a Porsche 911 Turbo, an E63 AMG wagon, an old Range Rover and a Mercedes Benz G-wagen.

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