Choosing an eco-friendly automobile

An interview with green car expert Eric Novak

Looking for a new vehicle? There are many choices beyond your traditional fossil-fuel guzzling land yacht!

Whether you choose a car that’s blue, red or beige…eco-automobile expert & EnviroDad.com founder, Eric Novak, will help you drive GREEN!

EcoParent: I’m in the market to buy a new vehicle. What do I need to know about green car technologies? Where does it stand right now, and where does it look like we’re headed?

Eric Novak: A lot of attention is focused on hybrid vehicles and even fully electric vehicles, but it’s important to recognize the amazing advancements that have taken place with diesel engines and even with making standard combustion engines more fuel efficient than ever.

When looking to buy a new “green” vehicle, it’s important to give consideration to what your own driving needs would be? Lifestyle is also an important consideration since people often make car decisions based upon the wrong criteria. For example, if you feel you need a big vehicle because you haul a boat to the cottage in the spring and back in the fall – yet you basically use it as a commuter car for the other 50 weeks of the year, does it really make sense to buy a bigger car than you need based upon a drive you make only twice a year?

Automakers will continue to invest in reducing the overall carbon footprint of their offerings primarily because they have no choice. Around the world there is pending legislation that will be enacted within the next several years in California, Europe and China that place minimum overall fuel efficiency standards on automakers.

EP: What’s likely to go wrong or break down, and where can I get it fixed? Do I need a specialist?

EN: It’s a well-travelled myth that electrified cars, or hybrid cars are at a greater risk of breaking down. In fact, the batteries used in fully electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles such as the Chevy VoltNissan LeafFord Focus EV or Honda Accord PHEV have longer warranties (usually 8 years or 160,000km) than most engines have.

Fully electric vehicles actually are easier to maintain due to less moving parts inside. With no engine to maintain, no oil changes are necessary.

All dealerships that sell green cars have service technicians that are capable of fully servicing them. As for non-dealership repair facilities, it makes sense to ask ahead before going in. While more mechanics are taking the necessary training, it’s still not wide spread yet.

EP: The price tag on a green car is still higher than its conventional gas guzzling counterparts. Am I likely to break even or save money over the lifespan of the car (assuming nothing crazy happens with the cost of gas and electricity)?

EN: If a person buying a green car expects to keep it for an average of 4 years or more, the answer will typically always be YES. How fast you recover the added investment however can depend on where you live and what type of car you buy.

Three provinces (Ontario, Quebec and BC) offer government rebates on the purchase which can range from around $7,000 to $8,500 depending on the province and the vehicle. Prices on these vehicles will also continue to come down as technology and efficiency advances. The Nissan Leaf for example recently had its price drop by close to 25 per cent and the reason is because it’s now made in North America (Tennessee) versus Japan and the savings on the currency fluctuations alone were able to be passed down.

Full EV’s also cost a lot less to “fuel up” than regular cars. According to Nissan, it costs on average about $0.015 per KM to charge up the car, whereas a very fuel efficient non EV, such as a Nissan Versa... would cost anywhere from $0.08 to $0.10 per KM. Drive 20,000 KM’s per year and the savings on fuel alone can be in the thousands!

EP: Aside from the means of powering it, are there other cool green bells and whistles that are being incorporated into these green machines?

EN: Yes. Soy foam, for example is becoming common inside the seats. Some seats made by Ford are actually filled with recycled blue jeans, if you can believe it! Floor mats are often made from recycled plastic bottles, and even seating surfaces are seeing green advances.

A lot of new green cars now also have on board driving tutorials which through one approach or another will give you feedback on how efficiently – or how green – you are driving.

EP: What are the most family friendly makes and models these days? Think 2 kids, 1 dog, and camping gear to haul around in the summer months.

EN: While green technology hasn’t found its way into larger vehicles as much as it has smaller vehicles to this point, there still are a few to consider that are quite family friendly.

The most popular 7-seater hybrid regularly on the market right now is the Toyota Highlander Hybrid. Infiniti is also set to launch a 7 seat hybrid, known as the QX60 Hybrid, later in 2013.

My personal 7 seat dream car is the Tesla Model X which should be on the road soon. Fully electric, with Gull-wing doors and huge range – sigh – I can dare to dream.

The Toyota Prius V is a solid mid-sized family hybrid as is the Lexus RX 450h, but keep in mind that not all great green family cars have to be hybrids. The Mazda CX-5 with SkyActiv offers some very impressive fuel efficiency not to mention diesel versions of the Volkswagen Touareg TDI and the Audi A7 TDI.

Even with all the above, most new family friendly cars are being built with better fuel efficiency in mind, so do your due diligence, determine what is best for you and then go out and make a greener choice for your next family automobile!


Eric Novak is the President and founder of Modern Media Perspectives. In this role, he provides media consulting services related to public and media relations, marketing and communications. Eric is a consultant, video producer, TV host, writer, blogger and custom publisher. He is also the Editor in Chief and creator of the environmental website EnviroDad.com.

EcoParent is a national magazine for families that want to make healthier, greener lifestyle choices. Fun and inspirational in tone—and never judgmental—it is Canada's premiere publication for the conscientious parent. Food, fashion, books, travel and so much more!

</