ETA Green Car Awards

Wednesday 23rd June, 2010
There are lies, damn lies...and car awards and they don't get much more ridiculous than The Green Car Awards presented by the Environmental Transport Association.

I'm not entirely sure who the ETA are trying to be, they appear to sell breakdown cover, but they claim their Green Car Awards have been running since 1992. ETA SERVICES LIMITED, the company behind the awards, was actually first incorporated on the 6th February 1997 but under the name of "MOTIVESELL LIMITED". They rebranded to the ETA name on 4th August 1997 after just 6 months in business and the eta.co.uk domain was registered in the same month. Their nature of business is registered at companies house as "non-life insurance" which might go someway towards explaining how they appear to have such limited knowledge of Environmental matters.

So why have I taken issue with these awards?

Well, I don't regard myself a true global expert on environmental matters but I'm certainly ahead of the average guy on the street. One glance of the award winners gave me cause for investigation. Initially, I just didn't understand how the Honda Insight had won the "Small Family" category when it was clear there are other, more economical cars in the sector. Some information of how they reached the verdicts is provided on the website but it still wasn't entirely clear so I contacted the ETA directly and made contact with Yannick Read, who handles their external communications.

Yannick explained that the results for each car were based on 4 equally weighted factors. CO2 output, Fuel Economy (good old cold cycle mpg), Noise (measured in dB) and power (engine capacity). I naturally sought clarification on that last point as I didn't see how power and engine capacity could be linked, or even relevant. Does the power of an engine really have any relevance to it's Environmental Credentials? Yannick explained that this factor was actually based upon the engine size of the vehicle in cc - the smallest being the most green.

Does it matter if the engine is petrol or diesel? No. Does it matter how many seats the vehicle has or how much it can carry? No. Does it matter if the car is a petrol/electric hybrid? No. Are the electric motors on hybrids factored in at all? No, not really.

So, they take all the nominated vehicles and order them based upon the CO2 output. the one with the lowest CO2 emissions wins and gets the highest score for that section. Then they do the same for mpg, noise and...engine size. So the car with the smallest engine automatically wins 25% of the vote. It doesn't matter if it pours pure un-combusted fuel out of the tail pipe onto the tarmac, as long as it has a small engine.

To put in a bit of background here, Toyota released their 3rd generation Prius in 2009. The previous model had a 1.5 litre engine. The latest model now has a 1.8 litre engine - a bigger engine. The newer car would get a LOWER score in the ETA Green Car Awards because the new engine is bigger and it would therefore rank lower than other cars in that Power (engine capacity) factor. The new car, however, has significantly reduced CO2 emissions and a much improved fuel economy - because it has a bigger, more efficient, engine. If it uses less fossil fuels and emits less CO2, how can it possibly be less green? So this is how the results worked out so odd.

Let's go back to my query about the Honda Insight. It can clearly be seen from the ETA's own site that the Honda Insight does not appear on their Ten Best Cars list for CO2 output. The Smart came first and the new Polo came 2nd. The new Toyota Prius came 3rd in this list. The Honda Insight also doesn't appear on the Ten Best Cars list for Lowest Fuel Costs. The Prius does. Smart and Polo again take the top 2 positions.

But one quick glance at the Ten Best cars overall shows the Honda insight coming second - beating the new Polo. The Prius comes 5th and the Smart is nowhere to be seen here, wiped out by a Toyota iQ that appears to have come from nowhere and won the City category.

I went back to ETA and asked them directly for a response on this planned article, specifically asking how did a car not appear in the Top 10 for either CO2 or MPG and yet still win the "greenest" car in its class? I asked how they came to the conclusion that the size of an engine, in cc,  is any way directly proportional to its power? I asked how is the physical size of an engine in any way equated to a car's green credentials? I asked how the BMW 3-series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class ended up in different categories. The ETA response was...nothing. They chose not to respond to me from the moment I mentioned publishing an article about the awards.

So, if you reprinted the awards winners on your site or in your magazine without a second though about the content, shame on you. Will you just publish what anybody tells you without even vaguely questioning the accuracy of the information contained within?

And finally, if you were an ETA Green Car Award winner, just remember, all that glitters is not Green.

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