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The Next Wave Of Green Cars

If you’re looking to spend less on gasoline next year, you’ll find there are more shades of green cars available than ever before, including everything from high-efficiency gasoline and diesel cars to hybrids, plug-ins and alternative-fuel vehicles. The variety of efficient technologies available for 2012 underscores the fact that there’s more than one way to go green.

Hybrids aren’t the only answer anymore, although virtually every automaker is now offering at least one. The big news for 2012 is that the best-known purveyor of hybrids, Toyota Motor, has expanded the Prius family to four models. The Prius v, a larger variant of the popular Prius hatchback, just went on sale. It gets an estimated 44 mpg city/40 mpg highway. Next spring, two more models debut: the Prius c, a sporty, compact hybrid for younger buyers, and the Prius plug-in hybrid, which can run on electricity alone for short hops around town and then reverts to Toyota’s traditional hybrid system for longer distances. The Prius c is expected to get more than 50 miles per gallon, while offering all the hands-free entertainment options today’s young motorists want. The Prius plug-in hybrid can recharge in under three hours using a standard 120v household outlet and is expected to get the equivalent of more than 87 mpg.

Ford Motor also has a selection of new hybrids for 2012. The Ford C-Max hybrid, a compact five-passenger van expected to get better than 41 mpg, will replace the Ford Escape hybrid. Then there’s the C-Max Energi, a plug-in hybrid version, as well. Ford’s next-generation Fusion mid-sized sedan, debuting in January at the Detroit auto show, will also be available as a hybrid.

If you want a pure electric vehicle, there’s a bumper crop of battery-powered EVs coming to market in 2012, including plug-in versions of the Ford Focus, Honda Fit and Smart ForTwo as well as the BMW ActiveE, a 1-series coupe outfitted with an electric drive system that lets you go 100 miles without burning any gasoline. The ActiveE is available for a two-year lease only ($2,250 down, $499 per month) to a limited number of customers in Boston, Hartford, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento. Only 700 ActiveE models will be available in the U.S. beginning this December, but it’s a precursor to the electric BMW i3 city car coming in late 2013 and the plug-in hybrid i8 sports car coming in 2014. Mitsubishi, meanwhile, is about to start selling its year-old electric car, the Mitsubishi iMiEV, in the U.S. this month, starting in Hawaii and California, with a national roll-out to follow in 2012.

Efficiency of these EVs is hard to measure until the government comes up with a better scale than miles per gallon-equivalent (mpg-e). But for now, the EPA says the 2012 Mitsubishi i should get the equivalent of 126 mpg in the city and 99 mpg on the highway.

Tesla Motors, the California start-up whose gorgeous $108,000 electric roadster is a favorite among Hollywood types, will start selling a more affordable EV, the Model S, in mid-2012. Prices start at $49,900 (after a $7,500 federal tax credit) for the base car, which can go about 180 miles on a single charge, all the way up to about $70,000 for a larger battery and 300 miles of driving range.


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