GreenCars 101
Vehicle Basics

Defining Green Cars

Dave Nichols
Jul 2023
What exactly are green cars and what do they mean to the future of personal transportation? We explore a brief history of green cars, where the industry stands, and look ahead to the future of electric vehicles.
couple defining green cars

The Future of Green Transportation

In the beginning… there were cars, and they were good. Well, sort of good. They got us to where we wanted to go but ended up causing a bit of a mess in the form of greenhouse gases. These emissions increased air pollution and heated up our planet. Okay. Reboot. We have seen the error of our ways and are creating a future of greener, cleaner transportation.

Electric Charging Plug

Green Cars Defined

You hear many terms for green cars these days, and we’re not talking about “cars that are painted green.” Hybrid electric vehicles (HEV), and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) led us toward all-electric vehicles (EV) also known as battery-electric vehicles (BEV). There are alternative fuel vehicles such as hydrogen electric and even solar-powered vehicles - but what does all this mean and what exactly makes a vehicle… green?

After all, a fuel-efficient car can be in the green category if they reach an average of 40 mpg on the highway. Though, when we envision green cars today, we’re aiming more towards zero emission vehicles that don’t pollute at all. Because of this, a bicycle can be a green vehicle. It doesn’t pollute. It doesn’t add to the effects of climate change. To better get a handle on defining green cars, here’s a quick history lesson.

Smiling people in a car

How We Got Here

Since around the year 1900, gasoline and diesel-powered conveyances have been mass produced to move things around with relative ease. Complex systems of roads were built so that people and goods could be transported from sea to shining sea.

Back in the 1950s, a California researcher named Dr. Arie Haagen-Schmitt determined the link between cars and air pollution. Traffic pollutants were making Los Angeles so smoggy that you couldn’t see across the street. Back then, cars were emitting nearly 13 grams per mile of hydrocarbons (HC), 3.6 grams per mile of nitrogen oxides (NOx), and 87 grams per mile of carbon monoxide (CO). Not good.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepped in and set standard limits to auto emitting pollutants and automakers began developing emission control technologies.

Toyota Prius with Electric Charger

The First Hybrid Vehicles

Always looking ahead of the curve, Japanese automaker Toyota came out with the Prius hybrid car in 1997. It was the first mass-produced hybrid that combined a small gasoline-powered engine with an electric motor and battery pack to improve fuel efficiency and lower carbon emissions. In 2007 the EPA rated the Prius as one of the cleanest vehicles sold in America. The phenomenal success of the Prius has led to a diverse world of hybrid cars, trucks, and SUVs by many car companies. As of this writing, over six million Prius cars have been sold.

In 2011, Toyota developed its first plug-in hybrid car known as the Prius Prime. Plug-in hybrids allow you to plug the car in at regular 110-volt electric current outlets to travel up to 25 miles around town before the gasoline motor kicks in. While hybrid and plug-in hybrid auto sales are strong, a new, yet at the same time very old technology is poised to change the world of personal transportation.

Prius and Tesla

Evolution of Electric Vehicles

Although great strives have been taken to improve the fuel economy of gasoline-powered vehicles, these improvements are not enough to stem the tide of climate change or to eliminate air pollution from our skies. For that reason, green cars are generally considered vehicles that use alternative fuels or electricity to benefit both the consumer and the environment.

Electric cars have been around since 1890 when William Morrison, a chemist from Des Moines, Iowa, developed a six-passenger vehicle that could travel 14 miles per hour. Ferdinand Porsche invented the first hybrid electric car in 1901.

When the oil crisis of 1973 hit Americans right in the pocketbook, automakers such as General Motors got busy creating prototypes for electric urban commuter cars. But when gas prices dropped again, the public became less interested in EVs because of their limited range and performance.

Then, as mentioned earlier, in 1997 Toyota debuted the Prius hybrid. With its small gasoline engine married to an electric motor, the Prius was an instant hit with those looking to obtain better mileage and lower their carbon footprint. Tesla began producing all-electric cars in 2006 with a range of over 200 miles and were sexy all-electric sedans compared to the egg-shaped Prius hybrid.

Since that time, scientists, and politicians came together with the Energy Department to create a nationwide battery charging infrastructure. By 2010, major automakers were on board to create both plug-in hybrid and all-electric vehicles. By 2018 there were 23 different electric vehicle models and 36 hybrid vehicle models for sale in America.

Electric Charging Station with a lot of cars and people

The Road Ahead

Today, most automakers and 30 countries are moving toward an all-electric future, with plans to phase out gasoline-powered vehicles by 2040. The U.S. government plans on halting the purchase of gasoline-powered government vehicles by 2035. There are currently many incentives to go green including up to $7,500 in federal credits and many state and local incentives as well.  

With all these facts in mind, we are clearly headed toward a cleaner world filled with green cars. Let us help you discover everything you could ever possibly want to know about driving green.

A young couple admiring the forest and trees next to their RAV4 Hybrid

Join the sustainable transportation evolution.

Subscribe to receive the latest GreenCars news, products, and updates

Thank you! Your submission has been received!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.