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Americans Are Still Buying Gas-Guzzlers, But Here Are 7 Signs That the Market for Green Transport Is Exploding

More and more Americans are finding other ways to get around in greener fashion, from Smart Cars to Vespas.
 
 
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Americans get a lot of flack for their big cars. And often for good reason.

After sales figures for the first half of 2009 came in, it's looking like Ford's F-Series pickup trucks are set to make their 28th year at the top of the charts, with nearly 180,000 sold in the first two quarters.

With gas mileage near the bottom of the heap -- 15 miles per gallon in the city and around 20 on the highway -- the trucks are icons of America's suicidal obsession with gas guzzlers.

And suicidal it is. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, since the early '90s there has been a 20 percent increase in CO2 pollution from SUVs and pickups, which aren't required by federal law to meet the same fuel-efficiency standards as cars.

Not only are Americans' vehicles less efficient, but we own more of them and drive them more often than other countries. The U.K.'s Guardian reported in 2006:

Americans represent 5 percent of the world's population but drive almost a third of its cars, which in turn account for nearly half the carbon dioxide pumped out of exhaust pipes into the atmosphere each year, according to a report.

U.S. cars play a disproportionate role in global warming because they are less fuel efficient than passenger vehicles used elsewhere in the world, emitting 15 percent more carbon dioxide, and because they are driven further across America's wide-open spaces, said the report by the Environmental Defense watchdog group.

This sounds pretty depressing, but it's not all bad news. On Sept. 15, President Barack Obama announced a proposal from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Transportation Department to increase corporate average fuel economy (or CAFE) standards to 35.5 mpg by 2016. The new requirements would go into effect in 2012 and are predicted to save 950 million metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions in four years.

There's also more good news on the horizon, and it's coming from consumers. It turns out not everyone wants to own a 5,000-pound vehicle like an F-150, and that's a big help in combating global warming.

Here are seven ways Americans may be turning around that gas-guzzling trend.

1. Hybrids Catching on Like Wildfire

OK, with parts of Southern California still smoldering, wildfire metaphors are probably in bad taste right now, but the comparison is apt.

It turns out, Americans are not entirely opposed to saving gas -- and money. The Toyota Prius is the most fuel-efficient car on the U.S. market, and it saves the average driver $1,500 a year on gas, with 48 mpg in the city and 45 on the highway. It's a no-brainer for over a million people worldwide and hundreds of thousands in the U.S.

Last month alone, nearly 20,000 Priuses were sold in the U.S., and sales in July and August jumped an astonishing 48 percent and 45 percent, respectively, in comparison to the same time last year. As non-hybrid-vehicle sales fell 13 percent, overall hybrid sales increased by 35 percent in July from 2008 figures -- partly aided by the "cash for clunkers" program.

While the Prius is the iconic hybrid, competition is coming from a bunch of other manufacturers, with Honda's Civic Hybrid running in second place.

2. Plug It In

Electric vehicles of all kinds are making a comeback. After General Motors "killed" the EV1, electric vehicle lovers were despondent. But times are changing.

Plug-in hybrids are set to start hitting the U.S. market soon, with Toyota planning to release 500 of them later this year, and the Chevrolet Volt scheduled for 2011. Volvo is hoping to get into the market with diesel/electric in 2012.

 
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