Nissan LEAF Has Smallest Lifecycle Footprint of Any 2014 Model Year Automobile Sold in North America

4 years ago by Eric Loveday 38

Nissan LEAF

Nissan LEAF

The Automotive Science Group (ASG) has conducted the following:

Nissan LEAF Gets Assembled in Tennessee

Nissan LEAF Gets Assembled in Tennessee

“…a comprehensive life-cycle assessment of over 1,300 automobiles across nine categories to distinguish the BEST model year 2014 vehicles in environmental, economic, social and “all-around” performance.”

ASG says that this assessment equips consumers with “a car buying guide founded on principled facts, a departure from the notoriously subjective test drive “editor reviews” that have long been the industry norm.”

In terms of environmental footprint, ASG reports that the 2014 Nissan LEAF came out on top:

“Looking to advanced automotive technologies, ASG’s 2014 study found the Nissan Leaf to hold the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy). This U.S. assembled, battery electric vehicle with an estimated 84 mile driving range is the best selling all-electric car in the world for good reason, and now consumers can be confident that the increased environmental impacts of manufacturing the battery electric technology is more than offset with increased environmental performance during operational life.”

Below you’ll see all of the plug-ins (excluding Tesla) that made it into the “Best” rankings, as determined by ASG:

Nissan LEAF is Tops Overall, But Several Other Plug-Ins Made the List

Nissan LEAF is Tops Overall, But Several Other Plug-Ins Made the List

The Tesla Model S slots into the “full-size” category, where it was tops in environmental performance in the “Best 5” in all-around performance:

Tesla Model S Top Full-Size Category

Tesla Model S Top Full-Size Category

“Consumers can now prioritize vehicle choices based on ethical and/or budgetary objectives. Whether it’s a commitment to buy American-made, an environmental prerogative to reduce one’s carbon footprint, or purely an economic choice to save thousands of dollars in fuel costs, ASG’s vehicle ratings are the guidepost for the 21st Century car buyer.”

To see the full list of ranking and to “prioritize vehicle choices based on ethical and/or budgetary objectives,” follow the source link below.

Source: Automotive Science Group

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38 responses to "Nissan LEAF Has Smallest Lifecycle Footprint of Any 2014 Model Year Automobile Sold in North America"

  1. DaveMart says:

    A very high proportion of an electric car’s environmental impact is in the manufacture of the battery.
    That does not increase significantly with higher energy density.

    So whenever the higher energy density Leaf battery arrives they will pull even further ahead in environmental impact as it will be good for many more cycles.

    So much for those who claim no environmental advantage in the move to electric cars!

    1. Tman says:

      Sure, and electric power comes out of the wall….
      As long as the biggest part of electric power comes from power plants, that burn carbon gas etc. there is no point in electric cars. The overall efficiency is not any higher than a hybrid or a diesel.
      But there is a huge point in downsizing cars and making them lighter (nobody needs an electric back scratcher).

      “Looking to advanced automotive technologies, ASG’s 2014 study found the Nissan Leaf to hold the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy).”

      “(with minimum four person occupancy).” Why? How many cars do I see in Atlanta with 4 passengers?

      1. Anderlan says:

        The 2000s called, they want their anti-EV propaganda back. You don’t care about carbon intensity.

      2. io says:

        [Facepalm]

        What was meant by “with minimum four person occupancy”, was that ASG was comparing vehicles capable of transporting 4 or more people here.

        Aka, excluding things like 2-seaters and motorcycles.

      3. Robert says:

        Tman, you a looong way from home brother….

      4. BraveLil'Toaster says:

        That’s funny, my hydro utility reports that 86% of my electricity is completely emissions free.

  2. Ajay says:

    I was unable to find the data in the original report that says the leaf has the smallest overall lifecycle footprint, as I was only able to see winners in each car category (compact, mid-size etc). What is the source of this conclusion that the leaf is best overall? I was happy to see the Ford Focus Electric, a poorly advertised gem, topping the selections for compact cars. Did the data show that the leaf was better than ford focus electric?

    1. Eric Loveday says:

      Here’s the link to the release on the LEAF having the lowest lifecycle footprint: http://www.automotivescience.com/press/4582462907

      1. Tom A. says:

        Since it is in the headline of the article, it would have been nice to actually provide the info IN the article…or, is that what they mean by “Best Environmental Performance”?

        1. Eric Loveday says:

          The info is quoted directly in the article:

          “Looking to advanced automotive technologies, ASG’s 2014 study found the Nissan Leaf to hold the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market (with minimum four person occupancy). This U.S. assembled, battery electric vehicle with an estimated 84 mile driving range is the best selling all-electric car in the world for good reason, and now consumers can be confident that the increased environmental impacts of manufacturing the battery electric technology is more than offset with increased environmental performance during operational life.”

    2. Unplugged says:

      Automotive Science Group’s BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE vehicle for 2014 combining the best Social, Environmental and Economic Performance in its class is the 2014 Ford Focus Electric. Which, BTW, is the same size as the Nissan Leaf according to the official EPA measurements. So where does the Focus become magically smaller or the Leaf magically larger?

      In any case, once again, the Focus Electric is ignored. I don’t suppose we will be seeing an article about this any time soon.

  3. John F says:

    The headline should really give equal credit to the Ford Focus Electric and the Nissan Leaf as both achieve best in class ASG rankings for all-around performance, environmental performance, and social performance.

  4. MDEV says:

    I didn’t know the Leaf was a mid-size car.

    1. Warren says:

      Yes. Words create/feed bias. I think of the Leaf as a big car. Beyond that they are motorhomes.

      1. zivbndi says:

        I can’t figure out why the Leaf backseat seems so cramped. It isnt a small car but its backseat is just as bad as my Volt’s in the real world and worse on paper.

        1. BraveLil'Toaster says:

          One of my coworkers, who I sometimes carpool with (it’s my wife that drives the Leaf), owns an older Toyota Camry. It’s got loads of legroom in the front passenger side, but sitting in the back, not so much. It’s considerably smaller than our Leaf, with less legroom and headroom. I don’t find the Leaf cramped at all, and I’m 6’2″.

    2. Yes, determined by usable interior volume.

      1. Josh says:

        +1

        Most people don’t realize how much space the LEAF has. Adults fit in the rear seats comfortably, with plenty of headroom. The trunk in the rear is really deep (and ever better in the 2013). If you fold the rear seats down, you can fit pretty much anything short of a sheet of plywood.

    3. lewl says:

      +1, lol

      I started reading that thought ‘err.. I see Focus a lot, why is the headline Leaf’?

      Had no idea they class Leaf as mid-size. Certainly doesn’t look it.

      1. Tom A. says:

        Same, here.

  5. Tom A. says:

    What the heck is “Social Performance”? Does the car give you a small electric shock when it detects you texting while driving? Did their testers get more dates when driving the car around?

    1. io says:

      I was wondering about that too. Car with the most friends? Highest number of tweets? Without some context, the name is pretty meaningless.

      From ASG’s website: “BEST SOCIAL PERFORMANCE AWARD is given to the vehicle whose production chain ensures the highest level of protection for the rights of those tasked with vehicle manufacture and assembly, while also minimizing life-cycle environmental and human health burdens.”

      http://www.automotivescience.com/methodology/4580141110

    2. BraveLil'Toaster says:

      They have their full methodology here: http://www.automotivescience.com/the-standard/4580141111

  6. Is interesting that electric vehicles didn’t place tops for BEST ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE … from the link it sounds like is based on five-year operating costs. (perhaps not enough data for EV models yet?)

  7. Russ B says:

    On the surface, this seems to be an example of life cycle thinking (LCT), as opposed to life cycle analysis (LCA), which is a quite rigorous method of analysis based on ISO standards (ISO 14040/44). It will be interesting to see the report (when it comes out) and assess the level of rigor that was applied. For example, what, if any, analysis was done regarding the data quality? What, if any, sensitivity and uncertainty analysis was conducted? What was the allocation methodology used? What, specifically, were the system boundaries? Was the study critically reviewed in accordance with the ISO standards? It may well turn out that all of these points have been rigorously addressed (and as an EV fan I hope that it does), but, without the report, it is impossible to tell. It is bad practice to release results or conclusions in advance of the detailed report that justifies them. This is a marketing strategy that is used all too often. It allows the publisher of the results to grab the first (and most important) headline. By the time the study is released and can be refuted, all anyone will remember is the initial result. This sort of tactic reflects badly on the practice of LCA in general, and makes it more difficult to convince people that LCA, if properly and rigorously applied, can be a useful tool for assessing the true environmental impact of a product.

    1. DaveMart says:

      Absolutely.

      This has all the hallmarks of marketing fluff rather than analysis.
      Or else to get the figures behind it you have to pay a mere couple of thousand dollars or so, a technique perfected by Pike Research, so the give the headlines which are great for marketing the product, and if you want to show that they are garbage have to pay them to get at the figures to do so.

      I find I had not looked at it carefully enough when I wrote my first comment welcoming it.
      I should not comment until after I have had my first cup of coffee in the morning!

  8. Dan Hue says:

    I assume the i3 was not evaluated, since it’s not yet available. Would it top the LEAF?

    1. Russ B says:

      Probably not. The i3 uses a pretty significant amount of carbon fiber, which has a really bad life cycle emissions profile (high energy to produce, no recycling).

      1. DaveMart says:

        The carbon fibre production is specifically sited where it can be produced by very low emission hydro power.

        It is aerospace CF which is very difficult to recycle, they are able to recycle that in the i3 and i8.

        http://www.bmw.com/com/en/insights/corporation/bmwi/sustainability.html

        1. Russ B says:

          Green power accounting is another thing that we have to watch for. Claiming low-carbon electricity from a dam (or other green energy source connected to the grid) is very often just robbing Peter to pay Paul. The more electricity I buy from the hydropower company, the more the other people on my grid have to buy from the coal-powered plant (for example). There are some conditions (laid out in the GHG Protocol and the ILCD Handbook) in which the claim of low emissions for this kind of power are acceptable, but nothing I have seen from BMW provides any of the necessary justifications. They may have these justifications, but i have not seen them.

          Recycling of the CFRP in the i3 (as far as I have seen), is limited to the scrap that results from the trimming of the woven material before it is impregnated. This material can be used, but, because the fibers are very short, you really end up with very expensive fiberglass, which defeats most of the benefit of using carbon fiber in the first place. After the part has been made, recycling is only possible by dissolving the polymer matrix that holds the fibers. This is possible, but it requires some pretty heinous chemicals, and no one that I have heard of is doing it on anything like an industrial scale.

          1. DaveMart says:

            If you are demanding perfection, it ain’t gonna happen.
            No recycling is 100% efficient, and the very pure materials for first use are degraded and repurposed to something more tolerant for second use.
            This happens in metal recycling, in the paper industry and so on.

            Here is BMW on their recycling:
            ‘BMW i is also a pioneer in the processing of carbon fibres and their recycling. For the BMW Group, remnants from carbon production and the production of carbon components are valuable materials that are either channelled back into the production process or reused in other areas.

            But even that was not enough for us, so 95 % of the materials used to produce a BMW i3 can be recycled. ‘

            I think that is a distinct step up on your original contention that there is no recycling of carbon fibre.

            BMW are in the forefront of trying to develop recycling for carbon fibre.

            I welcome that.

            1. Russ B says:

              BMW’s statement, “…95 % of the materials used to produce a BMW i3 can be recycled” sounds like greenwashing to me. Certainly it can be recycled; the question is will it be, and at what cost? 95% of the materials in cars on the road today can be recycled, but almost everything except the metals goes to the landfill. Thermoplastics like PP, PE, PVC are 100% recyclable, and some of it gets recycled, but the vast majority goes to landfill (or incinerator power plants, which is a little better) after use because it’s cheaper and easier than recycling them. It’s even worse for CFRP. While the long fibers can be valuable, they are difficult and messy to recover. And if you chop it up, it loses almost all of its weight-saving characteristics and most of its value, reducing both the financial and environmental incentive to recycle it. It seems like BMW has made a marketing decision to use CFRP, and are trying to find reasons to justify that decision environmentally. IMHO, this kind of post-facto justification just gives anti-EV (and anti-green) folks ammunition. If someone makes an environmental claim, I think we (even more than the anti-s) should hold their feet to the fire and make them prove it. We all know the examples of past decisions based on incomplete or faulty environmental data (lead in gas, CFCs, biofuels). Of course there is always risk when you are breaking new ground, but we can minimize that risk by being diligent and thoughtful towards environmental claims.

          2. Mint says:

            BINGO.

            The world needs more system-level thinkers like yourself, and not just for environmental reasons.

            Hydro power is limited. If BMW uses it, somebody else cannot. i3 manufacturing burns fossil fuels, and given that Germany is increasing coal generation to meet its power needs, it’s safe to assume that i3 manufacturing is marginally powered almost entirely by coal, as without that demand new coal construction would be the first to be cut back.

            1. Stellar Moxie says:

              Germany generates most of its electricity by P.V. Within five years 75% of their electricity will be generated by solar alone.

              1. RussB says:

                According to an April 2012 report by Germany’s Federal Ministry of Economics and Technology

                http://www.efficiency-from-germany.info/EIE/Redaktion/EN/PDF/germanys-energy-policy-brochure,property=pdf,bereich=eie,sprache=en,rwb=true.pdf

                PV accounted for approximately 3% of Germany’s gross power production in 2011 (Europe – particularly Northern Europe – is not the most efficient region for PV).
                That said, BWM gets a large percentage of the power for the i3 assembly plant from wind power generated onsite. While this is laudable, it is sort of a drop in the bucket. Manufacturing and assembly generally account for 1-2% (perhaps 5-6% for a BEV) of the total life cycle emissions of a passenger car. Driving the car and producing the materials from which it is made are by far the largest sources of emissions.

          3. BraveLil'Toaster says:

            *cough*

            Remember, this is Germany you’re talking about. The country with the most installed solar capacity in the world. They generate so much solar power that they have to export it at peak generation times.

  9. Lou Grinzo says:

    We are getting very close to the mother of all vehicle tipping points re:EVs.

    Once there’s “enough” range available to convince the average US driver that he or she can do a 20-mile errand without being stranded roadside, we’ll really have something. Not only will there be greenies buying EVs (largely the motivation behind the Leaf in my garage as I type this), but mainstreamers who think it “would be nice to be green” will jump on the bandwagon just to save money.

    (And yes, the Leaf is a mid-sze, and it yes, it does have a lot of interior space. My prior car was a Scion xA, and my Leaf still feels like a microvan by comparison.)

    I often tell people that the biggest downside to owning an EV is spraining muscles because you flip the bird at every gas station you pass for the first few months. It won’t take much more of an economic (as in cost/benefit ratio) nudge before mass numbers of people are buying and loving EVs and making similar jokes.

  10. Unplugged says:

    Interestingly, Automotive Science Group’s BEST ALL-AROUND PERFORMANCE vehicle for 2014 combining the best Social, Environmental and Economic Performance in its class is the 2014 Ford Focus Electric.

    Once again, the Focus Electric is ignored. I don’t suppose we will be seeing an article about this any time soon.