Infographic: Green Cars 101

By Matthew Wheeland - October 28, 2011
Infographic: Green Cars 101

Infographic: Green Cars 101

Green Cars

Green cars hold the promise of breaking our addiction to oil and stemming the effects of climate change, but with all the terminology flying around, things can really get confusing. What’s an electric car versus a hybrid electric car? A standard hybrid versus a fuel cell hybrid? Here we explain the various types of green cars, complete with a chart of which brands are which.

The Green Options: Hybrid Electric Vehicle (“HEV”)

How It Works

Hybrid electric vehicles use two forms of power to propel the car, most commonly gasoline and electric power.

Under the Hood

How does it move? Internal combustion engine, plus an electric motor.

What powers it? Gasoline, with an internal battery as a back-up.

How do I refill it? With traditional gas. The battery re-charges itself while you drive and brake. (No plugging in).

Emissions: Very low emissions

Refuel time: A couple of minutes to fill your gas tank, like usual

Driving range: Between 525 and 550 miles (for Toyota Prius on a full tank of gas).


  • Great gas mileage
  • Great for city driving, moves on electric power at low speeds and uses no energy at idle
  • At higher speeds, the internal combustion engine tends to have more pep/power


  • Dependence on fossil fuels
  • Multiple energy sources to control, optimize, and manage
  • Complex and still somewhat expensive to buy
  • Still get most of their power from the internal combustion engine, making it less efficient than PHEVs and EVs


Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (“PHEV”)

How It Works

Plug-in electric hybrids run primarily on internal batteries you recharge using normal household power, but have a traditional gas tank as backup.

Under the Hood

How does it move? Electric motor, plus an internal combustion engine.

What powers it? Rechargeable batteries, with gasoline as a back-up

How do I refill it? Plug into a wall outlet and fill up at the gas station as back-up

Emissions: Very low emissions

Refuel time: 10 to 12 hours (Chevy Volt on regular wall outlet) or 3 to 4 hours with charging station.

Driving range: 35 miles (Chevy Volt in electric mode), 379 miles (Chevy Volt using electric + full tank of gas)


  • Gasoline back-up eliminates “range anxiety” associated with purely electric vehicles
  • As the battery gets low on power, the internal combustion engine takes over
  • Each kilowatt hour displaces 50 gallons of gasoline a year
  • More efficient than HEVs because of reduced dependence on internal combustion engine


  • Complex and still somewhat expensive to buy
  • Lifetime fuel savings typically not yet impressive
  • If it needs gas, usually needs premium gas

Electric Vehicle (“EV”)

How It Works

Electric vehicles use an electric motor powered by rechargeable battery packs that can be charged using regular household electricity.

Under the Hood

How does it move? Electric motor

What powers it? Rechargeable internal batteries

How do I refill it? Plug into a wall outlet or use a charging dock for faster re-charging

Emissions: Zero emissions

Refuel time: 15-20 hours (Nissan Leaf on regular wall outlet) or 30 minutes with charging dock.

Driving range: 73 miles (Nissan Leaf on full charge)


  • High energy efficiency
  • Independence from fossil fuels
  • Cheap to charge


  • Relatively short range
  • Lifetime savings typically not yet impressive, but one study found economics of EVs will steadily improve as battery technology gets cheaper and gas prices rise.

Fuel Cell Electric Hybrid Vehicle (“FCEV”)

How It Works

A fuel-cell powered car runs on hydrogen. A fuel-cell stack converts hydrogen gas that’s stored in the car into electricity to power the car’s motor.

Under the Hood

How does it move? Electric motor

What powers it? An internal battery and hydrogen powered fuel cell

How do I refill it? Fill up at a hydrogen refueling station. The first one opened in Dearborn, Michigan, in 2000 and they’ve been opening at a steady clip since.

Emissions: Zero or ultra-low emissions

Refuel time: Less than 5-minute hydrogen refill time

Driving range: 250 miles


  • High energy efficiency
  • Independence from fossil fuels


  • Fuel-cell cost, life cycle, and reliability
  • Lack of hydrogen fuel stations

Which Brands Are Which?

Plenty of these green options are already sharing the road with you. Here’s a look at a few of the models available. Cost reflects base price before government rebates, which can sometimes reach as much as $7,000 to $10,000.

Plug-in Electric Hybrid Vehicles (“PHEV”)


  • Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid
  • Cost: $33,000
  • Chevy Volt
  • Cost: $40,000
  • Fisker Karma PHEV-50
  • Cost: $95,500

Electric Vehicles (“EV”)


  • ThinkCity
  • Cost: $28,000
  • Nissan Leaf
  • Cost: $32,000
  • Tesla Model S
  • Cost: $59,700

Hybrid Electric Vehicles


  • Honda CR-Z Sport Hybrid Coupe (only HEV model available with manual transmission)
  • Cost: $21,510
  • Ford Fusion Hybrid
  • Cost: $28,600
  • Porsche Cayenne S Hybrid
  • Cost: $69,000

Fuel Cell Electric Hybrid Vehicles (“FCEV”)


  • Honda FCX Clarity (Available for lease on a limited basis)
  • Cost: 3 year $600/month lease
  • Several concept cars have been introduced and are in production for distribution
  • N/A
  • Several concept cars have been introduced and are in production for distribution
  • N/A

Other Green Ride Options

Flexible-Fuel Vehicle

  • How it works: Flexible fuel vehicles (FFVs) are designed to run on more than one fuel, usually gasoline blended with either ethanol or methanol fuel. Ethanol is one type of biodiesel and can be made from corn, sugar cane, switchgrass, or other plant materials. The most conventional ethanol blend is called “E85.”
  • Pros: Enables mass-scale domestic fuel production, slightly cheaper than conventional gas.
  • Cons: Car will get between 15 and 25 percent fewer miles per gallon on ethanol than traditional gas
  • Convenient? Currently there are about 2,300 U.S. gas stations selling E85 ethanol. Walmart recently announced it’s considering selling E85 at 385 of its gas stations nationwide. Ford Motor Company and VeraSun Energy are working to create a “Midwest Ethanol Corridor” through several Midwestern states.
  • Emissions: Most sources report E85 has lower emissions compared to conventional gasoline, but more research is needed.
  • Brand names: People are often surprised to learn that many models of well known domestic and foreign cars are manufactured to be flexible fuel vehicles from the Dodge Caravan, Jeep Grand Cherokee and GMC trucks to the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Isuzu Hombre. Note: It’s important to verify with the manufacturer which specific year, model, and engine is compatible with alternative fuels.

Compressed Natural Gas Vehicle

  • How it works: Compressed natural gas cars are powered by natural gas that’s compressed to less than 1 percent of its volume.
  • Pros: Burns cleaner than other fossil fuels, takes advantage of an abundant domestic fuel, existing gas-powered cars can be converted to allow compressed natural gas too.
  • Cons: Vehicles typically get fewer miles to the gallon on natural gas versus conventional gas.
  • Convenient? Natural gas vehicles are common throughout the world. The Asia-Pacific region has 6.8 million of them and in Latin America, over 90 percent of cars can run either on gasoline or compressed natural gas. In the U.S., natural gas vehicles have been restricted to public transportation until recently, but that’s changing with Obama’s recent endorsement of natural gas vehicles for government employees. As of February 2011, there were 873 compressed natural gas refueling sites in the U.S. and 2,589 liquefied natural gas sites.
  • Emissions: Operating on compressed natural gas results in 60 to 90 percent less smog-producing emissions and 30 to 40 percent less greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Brand names: The Honda Civic GX is the only natural gas vehicle commercially available in the US although Ford offers a prep package on certain models.

Fueling Your Car for $0 a Month

A new generation of green car owners are boosting their cars’ lifetime savings by charging them using home solar arrays. Bonus: those same panels have eliminated their monthly electric bills, too.

Small Solar System (1 to 2 KW): 15,000 miles for your car per year

Medium Solar System (3 to 5 KW): Powers your car and your house

  • Annual savings for electric car powered by solar: $900
  • Annual savings in home electricity costs: $1,500
  • Total annual savings: $2,400

Electric Car Myths

Myth #1: Electric cars overload the grid.

Fact: A comprehensive study found that if 60 percent of all cars were electric in 2050, they’d only consume 7 to 8 percent of grid-supplied electricity. Plus, most are charged at night when there’s plenty of electricity.

Myth #2: They’re no cleaner than gas-fueled cars because they’re charged on a coal-fired grid.

Fact: When charged on the grid, an electric vehicle is responsible for 115 rams of CO2 per kilometer driven, whereas a U.S. gas-powered car emits 250 rams of CO2 per kilometer driven. That’s a 54 percent difference.

Myth #3: It doesn’t make sense to use solar with an electric car because most people will charge cars at night when panels aren’t producing energy.

Fact: Though solar panels only generate power in daylight, the excess power they create is fed back into the grid, and the utility credits you for that power. So when a homeowner charges his car at night, he’s usually doing so free of charge.

Want to Know More About Using Solar to Power Your Car?

Check out this other infographic, “How to Spend $0 on Gas Next Month” or this video featuring two San Franciscans who are using solar panels to power their Chevy Volt.

What’s ?

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