Alternative route

Sacramentans slowly embrace green cars

Ford Motor Company stopped by Sacramento last week to show off its fleet of greener cars.

Ford Motor Company stopped by Sacramento last week to show off its fleet of greener cars.

Photo By PHOTO by bruce aldrich

Despite more mainstream carmakers and even luxury icons like Ferrari and Rolls Royce offering alternative-fuel vehicles, green cars still represent a small but slow-growing percentage of the country’s yearly auto sales.

The Toyota Prius hybrid earlier this year surpassed 1 million sales in the United States since its debut in 2001. But in 2011, through sales ending in October, the Prius was only the United States’ 12th best-selling car, with about 120,000 units purchased.

Regardless the slow adoption rate, industry enthusiasm remains. In its recently released annual energy outlook prognosis, ExxonMobil predicted half of new cars by 2040 would come equipped with some form of alternative-propulsion system—hybrid to electric, fuel cell to natural gas.

The energy monolith’s announcement coincided with the Sacramento stop of Ford Motor Company’s Power of Choice efficiency tour. In addition to stressing the manufacturer’s green-energy platform, Ford showcased some of its alternative and fuel-efficient vehicle stable: the Ford Explorer with EcoBoost, Ford Fiesta, the all-electric Transit Connect Electric and soon-to-debut Focus Electric.

“Ford is invested in developing cleaner driving solutions that fit the range of consumer needs,” Dan Kapp, Ford’s director of powertrain research and advanced technology, said at a Midtown luncheon. “We are creating technologies that enable greener driving across all powertrains and price points. We want drivers to know they have options when it comes to what they drive.”

Ford also distributed the results of its recent online survey that detailed the preferences of drivers within 30 miles of Sacramento. Among the results: Fuel efficiency (39 percent) is the most important factor in a vehicle purchase among Sacramento drivers. Safety and style (16 percent), brand loyalty (15 percent) and technology (8 percent) follow.

Seventy-five percent of Sacramento-area residents responded that an electric vehicle would fit their family’s needs. But 56 percent said they’re not comfortable having a car with limited driving range as their primary mode of transportation.

California leads the country in alternative-fuel vehicle sales, with Sacramento 10th among U.S. cities in reduced-emission car purchases. San Francisco, Monterey, Los Angeles and San Diego are perennially also among the top 10 U.S. cities in alternative-fuel car sales.

California’s prominence in the green-vehicle industry also received recent national attention when the U.S. Department of Energy announced more than $7 million to fund four projects in California, Washington and Oregon to advance hydrogen-storage technologies to be used in fuel-cell electric vehicles.

Sacramento was among pioneering U.S. cities where Honda first sold its Civic natural-gas edition. Introduced 13 years ago as the Civic GX, retail availability until October was limited to four states.

Now, as the country’s cleanest emissions vehicle, the small-selling the Civic Natural Gas is available in 35 states. On average, natural gas cost 35 percent less than unleaded fuel.

As the only dedicated natural gas-powered passenger vehicle manufactured and sold in the country, the Honda Civic Natural Gas qualifies for a state-issued decal allowing single-occupant access to carpool lanes in California and several other states.

Available at several dealerships throughout the Sacramento region, Honda is currently addressing the car’s major drawback—lack of refueling stations. The U.S. Department of Energy website highlights only 11 refueling natural gas refueling stations within a 25-mile radius of Sacramento. Four of the locations are public, the remaining are private or for government use only.

Honda is including the Civic Natural Gas edition for the first time in its national sales campaigns and is hopeful for an all-time best of 3,000 sales nationwide in 2012.