The World’s 7 Greenest Vehicles

7 Greenest Vehicles

According to Wikipedia a ‘vehicle’ is a:

mobile machine that transports passengers or cargo. Most often vehicles are manufactured, such as bicycles, cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, trains, ships, boats and aircraft

But somehow a ‘green vehicle’ is a:

road motor vehicle that produces less harmful impacts to the environment than comparable conventional internal combustion engine vehicles running on gasoline or diesel

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE Wikipedia, but I do find it a little ironic that ‘green vehicles’ are pigeon holed as cars. Because on a full lifecycle emissions basis cars really aren’t that green compared to other options.

Here’s my take on the world’s seven greenest vehicles.

7: The Nissan Leaf

I thought I’d be charitable and include a car.  After all a huge chunk of global passenger kilometers are from automobiles, so better cars are hugely important for the future.  I’ve plumped for the Nissan Leaf as it is the leading all-electric car in Japan, the US, UK, Norway . .  Using low carbon electricity electric car emissions are down around 50 g CO2e/pkm (passenger kilometre), almost all of which comes from vehicle manufacturing.

The nissan leaf

6: The Intercity Coach

It may surprise you, but the typical Stagecoach or Greyhound diesel bus can often have lower emissions per passenger kilometer than the best electric car.  That’s because intercity buses travel at efficient speeds on highways, have decent occupancy and tiny manufacturing emissions as they are spread over so many passengers.  I’ve seen a bunch of studies ranging from 35-85 g CO2e/pkm.

The Intercity Coach

5: The School Bus

This one is probably even more surprising, but school buses typically have quite low emissions.  Not because they are über efficient, or that they do smooth highway miles, but simply because they have such high occupancy.  Emissions per passenger kilometer are typically in the 20-50 g CO2e/pkm range.

The School Bus

4: High Speed Rail

High speed rail can be very low carbon, particularly with the right juice.  We’ve taken the Eurostar and TGV from London down to the Pyrenees a couple of times with emissions about a tenth of what a flight would have been.  The largely nuclear electricity in France means emissions of 17 g CO2e/pkm on their high-speed network.  Typically emissions are from 10-60 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source.

High Speed Rail

3: Light Urban Rail

Any form of electric train can provide very low carbon miles if it has the right juice.  Busy trams, metro or light rail systems can also have low emissions.  The example below is from Bergen in Norway, where hydro power is dominant.  Lifecycle emissions can range from 10-50 g CO2e/pkm depending on fuel source, efficiency and occupancy.

Light urban rail

2: The Electric Bike

Guess how many electric bikes there are in China today?  200 million!!  That number floored me when I first saw it.  Almost 30 million e-bikes will be sold in China this year alone.  That is about half the number of passenger cars globally.  In coal reliant China an electric bike has average lifecycle emissions of 22 g CO2e/pkm.  Depending on fuel mix they are typically in the range of 5-30 g CO2e/pkm.

Electric bike

1: The Flying Pigeon Bicycle

The ‘Flying Pigeon‘ is the most popular vehicle of all time.  More than 500 million have been produced since 1950.  Based on the 1932 Raleigh Roadster the popular model came in black, with one speed, 28 in (710 mm) wheels, a fully covered chain, sprung leather saddle, rear rack and rod brakes.  This is an old school classic.  In China, where the diet is relatively low carbon and electricity carbon intensive, this bike edges the eBike at around 10 g CO2e/pkm.

The flying pigeon

What is missing from the list?

This isn’t the most scientific of lists, and I get the feeling I must be missing some options?  You can get a better grip of the data in our 5 Elements of Sustainable Transport post.  The one thing that really surprised me in this post is the rise of electric bikes.  It is about 90% a China story currently, but the rate of growth in Brazil, Europe, India and even the US is really impressive.

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  • Randy

    My car is only #7? =( Where I live, there is no choice, you have to have a car… Must have 4 wheel drive SUVs and trucks, so they don’t get stuck in the winter, like me today…

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Sure. I’ve got a car, I’m sure it isn’t as low as your leaf. That doesn’t change the fact that the miles I do on my bike are far lower carbon

      • Randy

        True, but you don’t have to drive up to 130 miles a day in the Appalachian hills of Ohio… I get what your saying, but bikes can’t replace cars for most americans.

        • Lindsay Wilson

          I never said that, in fact I said “After all a huge chunk of global passenger kilometers are from automobiles, so better cars are hugely important for the future.” Moreover car passenger miles per American have been declining since 2005

          • Randy

            I didn’t say you said that… I didn’t mean to imply that I meant that.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            Fair enough, not trying to be touchy. Pretty cool you’re rocking a Leaf in Ohio, gorgeous part of the world!!

          • Randy

            Yeah, if you like corn fields! It depends where you are in Ohio. I live in the Appalachian hills now, so it is nice around here. I have only seen 2 other Leafs in Ohio, other than on dealer lots. Both in Columbus, one guy drove all the way from Cleveland for NPID.

          • Lindsay Wilson

            Leafs just passed 35,000 sales in the US. I’ve walked a little Appalachians once upon a time, might of been West Virginia though. Not sure to be honest

  • OPatrick

    I’m surprised you don’t include electric scooters or motorcycles. These fill a different niche, in particular the medium length commute of say 10-25 miles and have the potential to make a significant reduction in carbon emissions.
    I have a 20 mile commute across country with no realistic public transport and my electric scooter – e-motive E3 – gets me there at least as fast (significantly faster in heavy traffic) as a car would. I’ve calculated, having done getting on for 20 000 miles on it now on the original batteries, that it is already closing in on being as good value over its lifetime as the most economical equivalent petrol bike (probably the Honda CBF 125) given the fuel savings. And that’s without any subsidy – it’s strange that this class of electric vehicles seems to be being overlooked. Electric cars get the £5000 subsidy, electric bikes are, I think, eligible for the cycle-to-work scheme but the electric motorcycle gets nothing. It wouldn’t take much to make it the obvious choice for anyone looking for the best value commuting bike.

    • Lindsay Wilson

      Yep you’ve got a good point, should really have been on that list. I guess they are a little of my radar as not too mass market yet. They do provide as practical niche between electric bikes and cars. I’ll post about it in the future at some point. cheers

      • OPatrick

        Thanks – I’ll look forwards to it.
        Having said that, I’m looking in to buying a newer model but the importers seem to be having a problem getting them. Or maybe there just isn’t the market for them, which is madness. Perhaps the Chinese are providing all the market the manufacturers need.
        And just to say I’ve only recently been pointed towards this blog but I’m a regular visitor already. Great stuff. Thanks.

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