There seems to be a growing number of us who diligently recycle, compost and shop organic, yet still cling to our old, non-hybrid cars like security blankets. Fear not: Eco-friendly car parts and manufacturing processes that look beyond the gas tank will soon bring hope to those who want to have their SUVs and drive them too. So instead of hiding your face in shame as you cruise past people biking to work, here are a few ways you may soon be able to turn your current gas-guzzler a lighter shade of green.
Michelin wowed crowds at this month’s Frankfurt Auto Show with a new low-resistance tire called the Energy Saver, whose improved rolling resistance can improve fuel economy and save up to one ton of CO2 emissions over the life span of the tire (the company is currently rolling it out on Peugeot 308s across Europe). On our side of the pond, Yokohama Tire Corp, the U.S. arm of Japan’s Yokohama Rubber Co., has just launched Eco Treadsetters, an online green social network and forum, and plans to launch its highly-anticipated E-Spec tire in Japan later this year. The E-Spec was created using new technology developed by Yokohama that combines citrus-based oils with rubber to cut the use of petroleum products in tires by 80 percent. No date for a U.S. rollout has been set, but greener tires on our shores are clearly on the horizon.
Love that “new car” smell? Apparently that’s the smell of chemicals emanating from plastic — yum. The average car interior contains 250 pounds of the stuff, according to the American Plastics Council. (You can download a report for free on how different vehicles stack up in terms of chemicals from HealthyCar.org). Mitsubishi is also making waves at the Frankfurt Auto Show with its Concept cX car, whose trim and interior plastics are derived from bamboo and other plant-based resins. In the meantime, if you’re buying a new car, choose cloth seats over leather — according to HealthyCar.org, cars with leather seats and upgraded trim packages had significantly higher levels of harmful chemicals.
Paint it Green:
Ford (F) isn’t exactly known for being cutting-edge (witness the recent cover story on The Onion that the company was re-launching the Model T). But it appears they are trying. The automaker last month said it’s rolling out 200 Ford E-Series trucks featuring a new eco-friendly painting process that reduces the CO2 output by 15 percent and — perhaps more crucially for its shareholders — cuts production costs by $7 per vehicle (though Ford is claiming their paint is “and industry first,” Mazda, Toyota (TM) and GM (GM) have all been tinkering with something similar). While the paint is still chemical-rich, the streamlined new process takes less time and reduces the size of the traditional paint shop by 15 percent as well. A bigger rollout is expected next year. Not exactly a solar-powered SUV, but certainly a step in the right direction from the makers of the 12mpg (city) Expedition.
Dry Clean It:
Washing your car not only uses between 80 and 140 gallons of water, it sends that water straight back into the ground brimming with oil, detergent, etc. Twenty-five-year-old James Dudra thought of a better way, and last year he launched EcoTouch Waterless Car Wash, a non-toxic, biodegradable spray. His company estimates that one 22 oz. bottle can save 800 gallons of water. Eureka.