2019 SUMMARY FINDINGS
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 2019 Automotive Performance Index (API) Study 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 2019. 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 2019 API assessed 1,640 Car, Crossover, SUV and Minivan variants. The API findings highlight and contrast the performance merits that differentiate between conventional and advanced powertrains in this transitional year. Below you will find a discussion of the key observations that emerged when assessing and comparing all 2019 model offerings that are now available to consumers. ASG’s top selections by class are also reported in the eleven class sections of the site, as well as in the five Awards sections that can be accessed from the top navigation bar [Note: 2019 update is currently underway]. For our 2019 methodology, please visit the methodology section of the site, also accessible from the top navigation bar.
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 third consecutive year (Source: Energy Information Administration) – our vehicle of choice in 2019 will have a lasting effect.
Key to ASG’s 2019 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 2018, largely attributed to reduced reliance on coal for electricity generation, and a sharp increase in zero-emission renewable sources (Source: Energy Information Administration).
Renewable electricity generation provided a new record of 742 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity in 2018, nearly double that which was produced in 2008. Renewables provided 17.6% of electricity generation in the United States in 2018 (Source: Energy Information Administration).
Nearly 90% of the increase in U.S. renewable electricity in the last 10 years has ome from wind and solar installations. Wind generation rose from 55 million MWh in 2008 to 275 million MWh in 2018, accounting for 6.5% of total electricity generation in the U.S. Solar power has increased from 2 million MWh in 2008 to 96 million MWh in 2018, accounting for 2.3% of electricity generation in 2018. (Source: Energy Information Administration).
As wind and solar projects continue to come online, economies of scale have driven costs per kwh down, not only reaching price parity in many regions of the U.S., but often reaching the lowest cost. According to a recent study by the University of Texas at Austin’s Energy Institute, wind energy is the lowest cost for a broad swath of the country, from the High Plains, the Midwest, Texas, and portions of the Northeast; while solar power is the cheapest technology in the Southwest, as well as parts of the eastern and northern regions of the U.S. Natural gas continues to lead some regions, but coal is out.
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.
We’re now seeing the most exciting transition in the automotive landscape since the the first mass produced vehicles rolled off the assembly line in the early 20th century. We’re seeing a disruption in the market that is changing the competitive landscape - automakers are being pressed for measurable innovation, not just shamelessly repackaging and rebranding the same technologies decade after decade. The future is bright for automakers that break free from groupthink tendencies and push their limits on technical innovation, as we are seeing from the leading automakers in 2019.
With more than a dozen car models being cut from U.S. production since last year, these tired models simply failed to evolve with changing consumer preferences, with the nix being the best and most welcomed recourse. The outgoing Ford Taurus for example, delivers an appalling EPA estimated 21 MPG combined (city/hwy) for model year 2019, up from 20 MPG combined in the year 2000. With a 1 MPG improvement in 19 years, Ford not only managed to add 525 pounds to its curb weight, but they also lost 2 cubic feet of passenger volume - clearly a failed product evolution leading to Ford ceasing production in March. The Chevrolet Impala didn’t fair much better rising from 21 MPG to 25 MPG over the course of nearly two decades.
Who then is leading the way in 2019? ASG’S annual study found 37 electrified models - 15 full battery electric vehicles & 22 plug-in hybrid vehicles - up from just 8 production models in 2018. 2019 marks a momentous turning point where the most advanced powertrains are not only available to mainstream buyers, but according to ASG’s comparative analysis, some of these models also bridge exceptional environmental performance with industry leading economic performance and best all-around life-cycle value.
ASG found Mitsubishi, Toyota, Nissan, Kia, Hyundai and FCA models leading the 2019 API rankings. Key to ASG’s 2019 findings is the technological tradeoffs between vehicle electrification and light-weighting strategies to maximize life-cycle environmental and economic performance. It comes as no surprise in ASG’s study that the effective use of both strategies is the winning formula.
The Toyota Prius Prime again tops ASG’s 2019 API (cars), earning ASG’s Best All-Around Performance title, just as it counts its 19th year since it was introduced to the North American market.
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. 19 years later, the Prius 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 (accounting for resource extraction, processing, vehicle assembly, delivery, use and upstream fuel phases). ASG found the 2019 Prius Eco to hold 241 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time, a 18% 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 2019 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 154 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven life-time, a life-cycle carbon footprint that is 48% 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.
Both Hyundai and Kia bring newer models to fore with the Hyundai Ioniq and Kia Niro, both models coming in hybrid, plug-in hybrid and battery electric variants. Both the Ioniq and Niro nearly swept the competition in their competitive sets, providing best all-around performance in the full-size car and compact crossover segments.
While ASG’s study reveals that these advanced powertrains are largely responsible for leading significant fleet fuel economy gains in 2019, 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 302 grams CO2-e per mile driven life-time - this is on par with the Sonata Hybrid at 301 grams respectively.
But the Mirage holds an ace when compared to hybrid models, it also holds claim to the lowest cost of ownership and best economic performance of any model year 2019 car, crossover or SUV, 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 2019 vehicle without hybrid or electric capabilities.
In the wagon segment, the 2019 Subaru Outback secured the Best All-Around Performance honor for the second consecutive year. The Outback furthered its winnings by holding the smallest carbon footprint of any model year 2019 wagon, earning the Best Environmental Performance award in class. ASG found the Outback to produce 10% less CO2-e emissions over the first 6.5 years in its life-cycle, as compared to the average vehicle in its segment. With an EPA estimated 28 MPG combined, the Outback holds a 3 MPG advantage over the average vehicle in the segment, a group comprised of 38 wagon model variants that include the likes of the Audi allroad, BMW Sports Wagon, Volvo V60 and V90, VW Golf Alltrack, Fiat 500L among others.
The All-New 2019 Volvo V60 maintained a life-cycle carbon footprint that is 9% smaller than the average vehicle in the segment, with 429 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven lifetime [accounting for resource extraction, processing, vehicle assembly, delivery, use with upstream fuel phases, and end-of-life management], falling just behind the Subaru Outback at 424 grams of CO2-e per mile driven lifetime. The V60's 28 MPG combined (city/hwy) matches the Subaru Outback for best-in-class combined MPG, but for those relying more on highway driving, the V60's 36 MPG hwy is a 4 MPG hwy advantage over the Outback.
The Fiat 500L offer the best value and economic performance in the wagon segment, earning the Best Economic Performance award in its class for the second consecutive year. The 500L is not only the lowest priced vehicle in its class, but ASG also found the 500L to take advantage of vehicle light-weighting strategies that maximize operational efficiency, coming in as the lightest vehicle architecture in class, and 534 pounds less than the average vehicle in its competitive segment. The 500L’s significant weight advantage, combined with its best-in-class retail price and a fuel economy rating that is on par with its more expensive counterparts, leads to a combined total cost savings of 30% over the initial 6.5 years of vehicle ownership, when compared to the average vehicle in its class.
With SUVs accounting for 48% of U.S. sales last year, up 3.8% over the previous year [Source: Jato Dynamics], 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 2019, there are notable SUVs that deliver on all fronts.
ASG’S annual Study, which assessed 877 model year 2019 crossovers, SUVs and Minivans in North America, found 13 models with plug-in electric capabilities (5 EVs and 7 PHEVs), and a dizzying array of vehicle sizes and styles, from hatchbacks that have grown into mini-compact crossovers to coupe style SUVs to the massive people movers in the largest vehicle segments.
When assessing all 419 crossover variants head to head (disregarding the division of mini crossover, compact crossover and crossover segments), the Kia Niro Plug-in topped ASG’s Environmental Performance Index (Crossover) with the smallest carbon footprint, besting the battery electric Audi e-tron, Tesla Model X and Jaguar I-Pace across its life-cycle. Weight is clearly a disadvantage for these battery electric models - the e-tron weighs 2,098 lbs. more, Model X comes in at 1,794 lbs. more, and the I-Pace is 1,393 lbs. more than the Niro Plug-in. The Plug-in gives users an all-electric range of 26 miles, capable of handling the majority of everyday driving tasks, with daily mean driving distance estimated at 38.4 miles in the U.S. At this rate, the Niro Plug-in will only require 10 fill-ups at the gas station per year.
In aggregate, when assessing environmental, economic and social performance indicators across each vehicle’s life-cycle, the Kia Niro Plug-in again leads ASG’s comprehensive API as the Best All-Around Performance crossover, followed by the Kia Niro, Nissan Kicks, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Mazda CX-3 and Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to round out ASG’s Best 5 All-Around Performance crossover selections.
The SUV segment was comprised of 406 model variants, with the Mitsubishi Outlander leading the API as the Best All-Around Performance SUV, followed by the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV, Nissan Rogue and Rogue Hybrid, Hyundai Santa Fe, Kia Sorento as ASG’s Best 5 All-Around Performance SUV selections.
The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid, with PHEV capabilities, lead the minivan segment, earning the Best All-Around Performance honor for the third consecutive year. In ASG’s environmental performance assessment, the Pacifica Hybrid furthered its winnings by holding the smallest carbon footprint of any model year 2019 Minivan, earning the distinguished Best Environmental Performance award in class, again for the third consecutive year. ASG found the Pacifica Hybrid to produce 34% less CO2-e emissions over the first 6.5 years in its life-cycle, as compared to the average vehicle in its segment.
ASG found the Pacifica Hybrid to produce 286 grams of CO2-e emissions per mile driven over its full life-cycle (accounting for resource extraction, processing, vehicle assembly, delivery, use and upstream fuel phases). This is on par with vehicles in much smaller classes, such as the Toyota Avalon Hybrid with 284 grams, the Lexus ES 300h at 287 grams, or the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid at 295 grams per mile driven lifetime.
Further, the 32-mile all electric range and advanced gas-electric combination not only reduces emissions, but also significantly reduces fuel costs. ASG found the Pacifica Hybrid to have the lowest fuel cost in class over the first 6.5 years of vehicle operation, a savings of $5,600 over the segment average, and $3,890 less than the next closest competitor.
In ASG’s data-driven brand assessment, ASG assessed all model year 2019 vehicles under 32 brands, to identify the consistency of performance across all brand offerings in their competitive segments.
Mitsubishi Motors once again ranks highest among all industry brands in ASG's 2019 assessment. ASG’s findings are further evidence of the brand’s core strengths that continue to resonate with new car buyers. Mitsubishi’s refined model lineup combines functional utility with cutting edge technology to deliver fuel efficient vehicles at a disruptive price point, earning Mitsubishi the distinction as ASG’s 2019 Best All-Around Performance Brand.
Mitsubishi continues to differentiate itself with its synergistic model lineup that leverages light-weight vehicle architectures and fuel efficient powertrains - a combination that collectively reduces operating costs and life-cycle carbon emissions. Mitsubishi’s commitment to these fundamental engineering principles, while delivering compelling vehicles at retail prices that beat the competition, proves to be a winning combination. By adding a Plug-in powertrain to the Outlander SUV, with its 22-mile all-electric range and 74 MPG-e combined, Mitsubishi reveals a smart path, topping ASG’s brand rankings again in 2019.
Mitsubishi Motors also ranked highest among all industry brands in overall value, earning ASG’s 2019 Best Economic Performance Brand Award. ASG’s economic performance assessment found the Mitsubishi Motors lineup to offer the best value across any industry brand in 2019, outperforming the average industry brand by 27%, when considering purchase and operating costs across the first 6.5 years of vehicle ownership (87,594 miles, the average time and vehicles miles traveled for a new car buyer).
In addition to its industry leading performance, Mitsubishi produces four award winning models: the 2019 Outlander and Outlander PHEV in the Mid-size SUV segment, the 2019 Outlander Sport in the Compact Crossover segment and the 2019 Mirage in the compact car segment. Mitsubishi delivers a versatile, well-rounded award winning line-up in 2019.
Tesla’s impressive battery electric lineup – the Model S, Model X and Model 3 – earned ASG’s Best Environmental Performance Brand for the second consecutive year. As discussed out the outset, the U.S energy mix is increasingly cleaner year over year, only enhancing the environmental benefits of electric vehicles and Teslas dominance.
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 2019. This marks the second 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 32 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 2019.
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 winning model for corporate social responsibility.
On other fronts, automakers have been ramping up investments in manufacturing facilities in Mexico for years, with Mexico producing 2.7 million vehicles that were shipped across the U.S. border in 2018, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. Automakers have leveraged Mexico as a labor and environmental cost advantage with auto labor hourly compensation costs in Mexico 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. But this all could change with the stroke of a pen, as the White House has put a 5% tariff on the table that could go into effect as soon as June 10, 2019, and increase to 25% by October if the White House so pleases.
The same tariff wars have hit automakers such as Volvo and GM who stepped up their outsourcing operations in China in recent years. While the cost of labor and compliance in China is significantly less than the cost of compliance in Belgium or Sweden, where many Volvo models are assembled, this cost savings is captured by the automaker, rather than being passed on to the U.S. consumer. In effect, consumers are paying a premium price for a product that does not embody that same overall value. 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.
For the 2019 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 2019 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. However this may be set to change pending U.S. - China tariff negotiations, and as Volvo opened its first U.S. manufacturing site in South Carolina in 2018.
Finally, ASG found in Toyota the Most Distinguished Brand of 2019, earning more top honors than any other brand in ASG 2019 API. Toyota’s diverse offerings across classes in both the SUV and car segments, earned 14 unique distinctions – from the RAV4 Hybrid and Highlander Hybrid, to the Prius C, Prius Prime, Prius Eco and Yaris Sedan. The Prius Prime also topped the API as the Best All-Around Performance Car of 2019. 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 updated with all 2019 award updates and comparative analysis, a consolidated list can be viewed below.
The automobiles that were included in this Study are model year 2019 Cars, Crossovers, SUVs, and Minivans available to North American consumers in 2019, and with full production capabilities. All two-seaters, convertibles and vehicles exceeding $100,000 MSRP were omitted from the assessment. Several model year 2019 EVs are not available to consumers nationwide, and are in fact extremely limited in production numbers; these vehicles were therefore removed from the 2019 Study findings.