The striking similarities among today’s new automobiles within each competitive class – like features, near identical passenger and cargo space, comparable styling, even near matching MSRPs – has created a hyper-competitive marketplace with little variation among product offerings, at least at face value.
There are indeed underlying product-differentiating factors that have traditionally been exempt from automotive value-based assessments. Consumer product knowledge regarding environmental, socioeconomic and life-cycle costs are extremely limited, yet these costs have a measurable impact not only on the consumer’s best financial interest, but also on the best interest of the environment in which we live and the global community of which we are all an equal part. The Automotive Science Group (ASG) is tasked with the responsibility to bring transparency to the marketplace through comparative cost analysis in these important performance areas.
Using a unique combination of vehicle data inputs that include conventional specifications as well as environmental, social and economic performance indicators, ASG is redefining value in the automotive marketplace. ASG’s 2018 Automotive Performance Index (API) breaks each vehicle down into the sum of all its parts, and measures the natural capital, the social and human capital, and the economic efficiencies embodied within each vehicle to derive its real market value relative to other product offerings in 2018. The data-driven findings, based on scientific principles and methods, serve to enhance product and technology comparison capabilities to better inform consumer choices.
ASG’s 2018 API assessed 1,664 Cars and SUVs (with trim variants). The API findings highlight and contrast the performance merits that differentiate conventional and alternatively powered cars and SUVs in this transitional year. Below you will find a discussion of the key observations that emerged when assessing and comparing all 2018 model offerings that are now available to consumers. ASG’s top selections by class are also reported in the eleven Car, Crossover and SUV class sections of the site, as well as in the five Awards sections that can be accessed from the top navigation bar. For our 2018 methodology, please visit the methodology section of the site, also accessible from the top navigation bar.
As the latest round of UN climate change negotiations concluded earlier this month in Bonn, Germany, in an effort to further develop the framework for implementing the landmark Paris Agreement, the U.S. government remained at odds with the rest of the world. It is this oddity that requires corporate leaders and individuals alike to step ahead of government impasse, and quite literally ‘lead the charge’ with smart transportation decisions.
With our transportation needs accounting for the largest share of total annual U.S. CO2 emissions – exceeding the U.S. power sector’s annual emissions for the second consecutive year [Source: Energy Information Administration] – our vehicle of choice in 2018 will have a lasting effect.
Key to ASG’s 2018 analysis, was assessing the comparative ecological economics of hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric and conventional powertrains. In this regard, ASG notes that the environmental benefits of electrification continue to improve as the U.S. grid gets cleaner year over year. The U.S. electric grid reduced total CO2 emissions in 2017, largely attributed to reduced reliance on coal for electricity generation, and a sharp increase in zero-emission renewable sources (Source: Energy Information Administration).
Significant electricity generating capacity was added to the U.S. power grid in 2016, the largest amount of added capacity since 2012. Of the 27 gigawatts of added capacity, utility-scale renewable energy accounted for 60% of all capacity additions, primarily wind (8.7 GW) and solar (7.7 GW). An additional 3.4 gigawatts of non utility-scale solar was added, making 2016 a banner year for improving the U.S. electric grid (EIA). In fact, 2016 marked the first year that coal-fired electricity capacity held a smaller share than any other single source, falling behind natural gas (EIA).
These trends continued into 2017 - when subtracting the 11.8GW of utility-scale fossil fuel infrastructure that was retired, the net new volume of U.S. electricity generation was 16.7GW of generating capacity, with 94.7% of that coming from renewables (EIA).
All of this means that PHEVs and EVs not only improve environmental performance and reduce GHG emissions today, with increasing benefits into the future, but this also means that with the continued increase in renewable energy production as a significant share of the national grid, comes new economies of scale that reduces the overall cost of clean power and directly lowers the cost to power EV and PHEV powertrains. Since 2009, the cost of photovoltaic modules has come down 70%, and according to Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, utility scale solar installations costs have dropped 50% in the past 6 years, translating to a highly competitive renewable electricity rate. In many regions across the U.S., wind and solar are now cheaper per kWh than electricity from traditional fossil fuels. The automotive electrification race is on.
With SUVs and pick-up trucks accounting for 63% of U.S. sales last year [Source: Autodata], ASG is committed to differentiating the best performing SUVs to ease this growing segment’s footprint on the world.
Fortunately, consumers have an abundance of choice, and in fact, in 2018, there are notable SUVs that deliver on all fronts. According to ASG’s 2018 Automotive Performance Index (API) Study, there are SUV standouts available to consumers today that are in fact ‘leading the charge’.
ASG’S annual Study, which assessed 823 (with trim variants) model year 2018 crossovers, SUVs and Minivans in North America, found 8 models with plug-in electric capabilities and a dizzying array of vehicle sizes and styles, from hatchbacks that have grown into mini-compact crossovers to coupe style SUVs to the capacious people movers of yesteryear.
When assessing all 376 model 2018 crossovers (with trim variants) head to head, the Kia Niro Plug-in topped ASG’s Environmental Performance Index (Crossover) with the smallest carbon footprint, besting the all-electric Tesla Model X by 21% over the first 6.5 years of its life. When projecting across the full vehicle life-cycle, the Model X nearly catches up to the Niro with only a 4% environmental deficit. Weight is clearly a disadvantage for the Model X, with its 1,821-pound excess when compared to the Niro PHEV.
ASG’s Economic Performance Index (Crossover) was topped by the all-new Hyundai Kona, with the lowest cost of ownership over the first 6.5 years of ownership, earning ASG’s Best Economic Performance honor, edging out the Niro and all others in ASG’s 2018 study. The Kona’s light weighting strategy gives it an impressive weight advantage, coming in at 801 pounds lighter than the average 2018 crossover. Less resources translates to reduced environmental footprint, increased operational efficiency and reduced life-cycle operating costs.
In aggregate, when assessing environmental, economic and social performance indicators across each vehicle’s life-cycle, the Kia Niro lead ASG’s comprehensive API as the Best All-Around Performance crossover, followed closely by the Niro Plug-in, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V to round out ASG’s Best 5 All-Around Performance crossover selections.
The SUV segment was comprised of 372 models (with trim variants), with the Nissan Rogue leading the API as the Best All-Around Performance SUV, followed closely by the Mitsubishi Outlander and Outlander PHEV, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester and Hyundai Santa Fe Sport as ASG’s Best 5 All-Around Performance SUV selections.
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, with PHEV capabilities and an EPA rated 84 MPGe, lead the minivan segment, earning all-around performance honors for the second consecutive year. The Pacifica Hybrid also earned a class leading environmental performance rating in ASG’s Study, with a carbon footprint that is 34% smaller than the average vehicle in its segment. When comparing the Pacifica Hybrid against all crossovers and SUVs in a head to head assessment, the Pacifica Hybrid closely followed the Tesla Model X in ASG’s Environmental Performance Index, and came in ahead of all crossovers and SUVs with conventional powertrains, including those that are half its size. This is a testament to the PHEV’s capabilities and 33-mile all-electric driving range, earning ASG’s Best Environmental Performance and Best All-Around Performance awards in class.
The Toyota Prius Prime topped ASG’s 2018 API (cars), earning ASG’s Best All-Around Performance title. In the 18th year since the Prius was introduced to the North American market – the Prius has finally come of age.
When the Prius was first launched in the U.S. market in 2000, the world’s first mass-produced hybrid boasted of its 41 MPG combined (city/hwy). With a 117.5 lb. NI-MH battery pack and a curb weight of 2765 lbs., Toyota lead the industry into the hybrid era with this compact model. 18 years later, the Prius Two Eco is equipped with a lighter lithium Ion battery that achieves 56 MPG combined – a notable 15 MPG improvement.
To see what this improvement means in CO2 terms, ASG conducted a comparative life-cycle assessment, and found the 2000 Prius to hold 295 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time (attributing CO2 emissions from raw material extraction, processing and manufacturing, through vehicle use with fuel inputs, to vehicle end-of-life). ASG found the 2018 Prius Eco to hold 226 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time, a 23% reduction over the 2000 model and a significant stride without a full technology leap.
While this is notable, the model that places the Prius at the top of ASG’s 2018 API, is the Prius Prime. Toyota is bridging the technological gap once again and leading us into the battery electric era with this plug-in hybrid model, featuring 133 MPG-e and a 25-mile all-electric capability. According to ASG, this lithium-ion plug-in hybrid model holds 181 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time, a life-cycle carbon footprint that is 39% less than the first generation Prius.
Compare Prius’ evolution with that of other top selling cars in North America and one sees a very different arc in CO2 emission reductions over the past two decades. One such example - the Ford Taurus had an EPA estimated 20 MPG combined in 2000, and a rating of 21 MPG combined in 2018. Mind you, that’s 1 MPG improvement in 18 years. ASG’s comparative life-cycle assessment shows the 2018 model with a 4% reduction in life-cycle carbon emissions at 556 grams CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time. One can see that light-weighting was clearly not in the Taurus’ evolution, with a car that has added 525 pounds to its waistline, while also managing to lose passenger volume by 2 cubic feet.
There are many other examples - the 2018 Honda civic is up a mere 3 MPG combined since the 2000 model year; the 2018 Chevrolet Impala is up 4 MPG combined; the Nissan Sentra is up 6 MPG combined. A large segment of America’s top selling cars have in fact failed to innovate, simply repackaging the same technologies with only modest improvements over a significant time lapse. When looking at these meager fuel economy gains as evidence, one could nearly agree with the new Administration’s planned freeze on Obama era fuel economy targets.
But, then there’s the leaders in the industry and their cost-effective achievements, which altogether torch the Administration’s case for a freeze.
Rest assured, 2018 brings innovation in the form of new models that simply weren’t available in times past, like the Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid and IONIQ Plug-in, the Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt and Ford Focus Electric, to name a few of ASG’s top selections for 2018.
According to ASG’s 2018 Study, advanced powertrains are not only available to the masses in record numbers in 2018, and with exceptional environmental performance, but the leading models actually break from the pack to offer industry leading economic performance and best all-around value in class. Case in point - the all-new 2018 Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid with 58 MPG combined (city/highway) and with a starting MSRP at $22,200 is ASG’s 2018 Best Economic Performance selection in the full-size class. The IONIQ Plug-in also earned the Best Environmental Performance and Best All-Around Performance awards for an IONIQ sweep in the full-size class for 2018.
While ASG’s study reveals that these advanced powertrains are largely responsible for leading significant fleet fuel economy gains in 2018, there is one notable model with a conventional powertrain that is a standout in the API. ASG found the Mitsubishi Mirage to hold the smallest life-cycle carbon footprint of any conventional powertrain, at 301 grams CO2-e per mile driven life-time - this is on par with the Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and Ford Fusion Hybrid at 297 grams and 295 grams respectively.
But the Mirage holds an ace when compared to these models, it also holds claim to the lowest cost of ownership and best economic performance of any model year 2018 car in the North American market, earning ASG’s Best Economic Performance award for the second consecutive year. The Mirage maximizes the fundamentals of utility - with sizable passenger volume, a light-weight design, and a fuel efficient 1.2 liter inline 3-cylinder engine that achieves 39 MPG combined, the best MPG rating of any 2018 vehicle without hybrid or electric capabilities.
Mitsubishi has found a winning combination that it has implemented across its North American lineup, one that adheres to the engineering principles embodied in the Mirage – Mitsubishi builds cars and SUVs with a streamlined light-weight vehicle architecture, with fuel efficient engines that reduce operating costs and carbon emissions, and with a retail price that cuts the competition. By adding a Plug-in powertrain to the 2018 Outlander SUV, Mitsubishi reveals a smart path for a brand with boundless potential.
In ASG’s data-driven brand assessment, ASG assessed all model year 2018 vehicles under 33 brands, to identify the consistency of performance across all brand offerings. ASG found Mitsubishi models with the highest consistent performance across all models, earning Mitsubishi the Best Economic Performance Brand and Best All-Around Performance Brand of 2018.
Tesla’s impressive lineup – the Model S, Model X and Model 3 – earned ASG’s Best Environmental Performance Brand. While the Model 3 trails the Prius Prime with a 4% carbon deficit at the 6.5-year mark in its life-cycle (time and vehicle miles traveled for the average new car buyer), it outperforms the Prius Prime by 11% with the lowest carbon footprint of any 2018 model over its full life-cycle.
From a social performance perspective – considering the rights of those charged with vehicle manufacture and assembly – MINI demonstrated the best corporate social responsibility initiatives, earning ASG’s Best Social Performance Brand award for 2018. This marks the first year that MINI is recognized by ASG for adopting and implementing progressive corporate social responsibility initiatives that make a difference across its supply chain. ASG’s Study assessed labor policies and practices, as well as environmental commitments of 33 automotive brands with sales in North America, to measure corporate commitments to socially responsible business conduct, and MINI's car lineup outperformed all other brands in 2018.
ASG found the MINI brand to embody the highest level of protection for environmental justice along its production and distribution chain.
MINI assembles vehicles destined for the U.S. market in the UK and the Netherlands, both countries with exceptional labor and environmental protections. While consumers expect to pay a price premium for the build quality of the brand, they are paying for more than just well assembled vehicles, they are paying the real cost to build vehicles with care for the people tasked with vehicle assembly and with care for the global environment. This is a model that has served MINI and BMW, its parent company, well, and is a true model of corporate social responsibility.
On other fronts, automakers have been ramping up investments in manufacturing facilities in Mexico, with Mexico now producing 20% of new vehicles available in the North American market (LMC Automotive). With the North American Free Trade Agreement in place – for the time being – automakers have leveraged Mexico as a labor and environmental cost advantage. Auto labor hourly compensation costs in Mexico are at $7.80, compared to costs in the United States’ at $45.34 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). The U.S. consumer however has not realized any tangible cost savings from this outsourcing practice, as the retail price for Mexican made cars remain virtually unchanged.
Volvo and Buick have also stepped up the outsourcing game, with imports of the Made in China Volvo S60, S90 Inscription and Buick Envision into the U.S. market. Interesting enough, the China made Volvo (albeit a bit roomier) is priced above the Volvo S60 that is Made in Belgium. The cost of labor and compliance in China is significantly less than the cost of compliance in Belgium, meaning the U.S. consumer is paying a premium price for a product that does not embody the same overall value as the competitive product that was assembled in Belgium. Compare Belgium’s hourly compensation costs of $57.63 with that of China’s $4.10 (Center for Automotive Research), Mexico’s $7.80, the United States’ $45.34, and Germany’s $58.82 (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics), and one can see there is indeed a significant cost difference.
Volvo has found a cost advantage and is carefully planning to expand on this model, while Ford also announced that the 2019 Ford Focus will be built in China - though the Whitehouse’s proposed car import tariffs could alter automakers’ long-term plans in this regard.
For the 2018 model year, ASG found vehicles destined for the North American marketplace being assembled in 19 different countries, with varying degrees of social and environmental performance. While ASG named Sweden as the 2018 BEST SOCIAL PERFORMANCE Country of Assembly, China was named the worst. Ironically, Volvo holds claim to both Made in Sweden and Made in China for the North American market.
Finally, ASG found in Toyota the Most Distinguished Brand of 2018, earning more top honors than any other brand in ASG 2018 study. Toyota’s diverse offerings across classes in both the SUV and car segments, earned eleven unique distinctions – from the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid each earning the Best Environmental Performance honor in their respective classes, to the Prius C and Prius Prime taking Best All-Around Performance honors in the compact and mid-size segments. The Prius Prime also topped the API as the Best All-Around Performance and Best Environmental Performance Car of 2018. Collectively, Toyota impresses with it longstanding hybrid technology, and its renewed push into the car electrification zone with the Prime variant.
ASG’s top selections by class are reported in the five car segments, three Crossover segments, two SUV segments and one Minivan class sections of the site, as well as in the five Awards sections that can be accessed from the top navigation bar. While the site is currently being populated with all 2018 award updates, a consolidated list can be viewed below.
The automobiles that were included in this Study are model year 2018 Cars, Crossovers, SUVs, and Minivans available to North American consumers in the first quarter of 2018, and with full production capabilities. All two-seaters, convertibles and vehicles exceeding $100,000 MSRP were omitted from the assessment. Several model year 2018 PHEVs and EVs are not available to consumers nationwide, and are in fact extremely limited in production numbers; these vehicles were therefore removed from the 2018 Study findings.
2018 BEST BRANDS (33 industry brands assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE BRAND OF 2018: Mitsubishi
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE BRAND OF 2018: Tesla
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE BRAND OF 2018: Mitsubishi
BEST SOCIAL PERFORMANCE BRAND OF 2018: MINI
MOST DISTINGUISHED BRAND OF 2018: Toyota
2018 ALL CARS (irrespective of class, 1,664 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE CAR OF 2018: Toyota Prius Prime
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE CAR OF 2018: Toyota Prius Prime
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE CAR OF 2018: Mitsubishi Mirage
BEST 5 ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE (SMALL CAR SEGMENT): Toyota Prius C, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi Mirage, Chevrolet Spark, Toyota Yaris
BEST 5 ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE (LARGE CAR SEGMENT): Toyota Prius Prime, Hyundai IONIQ (Hybrid/Plug-in), Toyota Prius Eco, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt
2018 MINI-COMPACT CARS (106 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Chevrolet Spark
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: BMW i3
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Mitsubishi Mirage
2018 COMPACT CARS (250 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Toyota Prius C
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Ford Focus Electric
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Nissan Versa
2018 MID-SIZE CARS (352 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Toyota Prius Prime
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Toyota Prius Prime
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Honda Fit
2018 FULL-SIZE CARS (102 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Hyundai IONIQ Plug-in
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Hyundai IONIQ Plug-in
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Hyundai IONIQ Hybrid
2018 WAGONS (27 vehicles assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Subaru Outback
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Volvo V60
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Fiat 500L
2018 ALL CROSSOVER SEGMENTS (376 models assessed)
BEST 5 ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE Crossovers of 2018: Kia Niro & Niro PHEV, Hyundai Kona, Mazda CX-3, Honda HR-V, Nissan Rogue Sport
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE Crossover of 2018: Kia Niro
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE Crossover of 2018: Kia Niro PHEV
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE Crossover of 2018: Hyundai Kona
2018 MINI CROSSOVERS (81 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Mazda CX-3
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Mazda CX-3
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Hyundai Kona
2018 COMPACT CROSSOVERS (84 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Kia Niro
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Kia Niro PHEV
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Kia Niro
2018 CROSSOVERS (209 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Chevrolet Equinox
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Toyota RAV4 Hybrid
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Jeep Compass
2018 ALL SUV SEGMENTS (372 models assessed)
BEST 5 ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE SUVs of 2018: Nissan Rogue, Mitsubishi Outlander & Outlander PHEV, Honda CR-V, Subaru Forester, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE SUV of 2018: Nissan Rogue
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE SUV of 2018: Tesla Model X
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE Crossover of 2018: Subaru Forester
2018 MID-SIZE SUV (196 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Nissan Rogue
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Tesla Model X
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Subaru Forester
2018 FULL-SIZE SUV (207 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Kia Sorento
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Toyota Highlander Hybrid
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Kia Sorento
2018 MINIVAN (46 models assessed)
BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL PERFORMANCE: Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE: Ford Transit Connect