Green your ride |

Green your ride

summit daily news
Grand County, CO Colorado
Special to the Daily

DENVER – A growing number of Americans are worried about the environmental, security and economic consequences of oil dependence, and auto manufacturers have taken notice. Hybrids, plug-in electric vehicles and other fuel-efficient autos have hit the streets, but which models are best suited to high country driving?

High-mileage darlings like the Toyota Prius and Honda Civic Hybrid aren’t necessarily incompatible with Summit County’s winter driving conditions, despite their compact size.

Summit County Treasurer Bill Wallace owns a 2003 Honda Civic Hybrid, and it suits him just fine – even on the snowiest days.

“I think it does great,” Wallace said. “It’s not the most powerful going up to the tunnel, but I can maintain 60 miles per hour, which is the speed limit.”

Wallace said he uses the best snow tires he can find for winter driving, and he’s never had a problem navigating mountain roads. Winter or summer, he gets about 42 miles per gallon, and he only has to change his oil once every 10,000 miles.

Many mountain drivers want vehicles with four-wheel drive, higher clearance or more capacity for schlepping gear. A number of manufacturers combine fuel-efficient features with burly function, according to Jim Schrack of the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office. Schrack said models like the Toyota Highlander Hybrid, the Ford Escape Hybrid and the Volkswagen TDI Touareg are a good options to explore for high country motorists.

The Highlander Hybrid gets 27 miles per gallon around town, compared to 20 miles per gallon in its non-hybrid counterpart. Ford advertises its Escape Hybrid as “the most fuel-efficient SUV on the planet,” getting 34 miles per gallon in the city and 31 on the highway.

The Touareg, also an SUV, runs on ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel. It averages 18 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway – about six more miles per gallon than the gasoline-burning Touareg. Volkswagen also makes a diesel Jetta SportWagen which gets 42 miles per gallon on the highway.

Schrack said the Colorado state government is constantly taking advantage of higher-mileage technology, purchasing hybrid vehicles when autos in its existing fleets are due for replacement.

All-electric options

For those seeking something a little more radical in their efforts to go green, all-electric vehicles are popping up at dealerships and intersections across the state. Aspen Electric Cars, which sells through Perkins Motor Company, has put between 75 and 100 electric vehicles onto Colorado’s streets. The company sells models from five different manufacturers, and all vehicles fuel up at any standard electrical outlet rather than at the gas pump.

“We drive them every single day,” Aspen resident and company co-owner Shae Singer said. “We have a set of snow tires, but electric cars don’t function any differently at sea level than they do at elevation.”

Singer said the cars are affected by extreme cold and extreme heat. They still run at those temperatures, but they won’t go as far on a single charge.

The automobiles she sells are “neighborhood electric vehicles,” designed for short jaunts around town but not for trips to Denver. They travel 20-35 miles on a single charge, which works out to about a penny per mile.

“These vehicles are great for communities like Aspen, Crested Butte, Steamboat Springs and Vail – communities that have a 15-mile radius where people drive from their homes to the grocery store, take the kids to hockey or ballet and go skiing,” Singer said.

All-electric vehicles range from tiny two-seaters to buses with capacity for 14 passengers.

“They’re not golf carts. These are actual vehicles with stereos and CD players and all sorts of options for styles and colors,” Singer said.

The electric vehicles at Aspen Electric Cars range in price from $8,000 to $40,000.

Electric vehicles have the benefit of zero tailpipe emissions, in the form of either soot or greenhouse gases. That doesn’t completely eliminate their environmental impact, since the power plants that generate electricity still produce greenhouse gases and other forms of air pollution. But in a recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy, researchers found that electric vehicles fueled by unused capacity in the current electrical system would emit 27 percent less global warming pollution than cars fueled by gasoline. The study also concluded that powering a car on electricity would result in 93 percent less smog-forming volatile organic compounds.

Julie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-4630 or

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