Honda has long had the reputation of offering fuel-efficient, relatively green vehicles, but this year, it has lost the “Greenest Automaker” laurels that it’s held since 1998 to an upstart: Hyundai-Kia. The news is remarkably good: For the first time since 1998, every one of the eight automakers has lower average carbon and smog-forming emissions than the baseline numbers established that year, more than a decade and a half ago.
Hyundai-Kia was able to topple Honda through a “concerted effort to improve the green performance of its fleet by turbocharging and downsizing engines in a number of its models,” as well as launching, and then quickly updating, both the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid and the Kia Optima Hybrid mid-size sedans.
Honda has long offered mild hybrid powertrains its small cars, but the sales of those models since 2010 have been far lower than predicted by Honda.
The UCS notes that it used EPA fuel-efficiency ratings for Hyundai and Kia models that had been adjusted downward after the EPA and the companies reached a settlement over testing-procedure errors that led to overly high ratings not delivered in real-world use.
Honda came in second to Hyundai-Kia, but it has “started to lag the industry average in its midsize fleet,” said Dave Cooke, a vehicles analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program and the author of the UCS report. Timing is partly to blame for that; the redesigned 2013 Honda Accord has been well reviewed, but despite a new continuously variable transmission (CVT), its fuel efficiency is not notably better than competitors.