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Ford, Honda steadily advancing in green car market

Ferrari and Rolls Royce are even entering the alternative fuel vehicle segment. But green cars still represent a small, controversial and slow-growing percentage of country's yearly auto sales.

The Toyota Prius hybrid earlier this year surpassed one million sales in the United States since its debut in 2001. But in 2011, through sales ending in October, the Prius was only the 12th best-selling car in the United States with about 120,000 units purchased.

Regardless of the slow adoption rate, industry enthusiasm remains. In mid-December, Exxon Mobile, in its annual energy outlook prognosis, predicted half of new cars by 2040 would come equipped with some form of alternative propulsion system — hybrid to electric, fuel cell to natural gas.

The energy monolith's announcement coincided with the Sacramento stop of Ford Motor Company's nationwide "Power of Choice" efficiency tour. In addition to stressing the manufacturer's green energy platform, Ford showcased some of its alternative and fuel efficient vehicle stable — the Ford Explorer with EcoBoost, Ford Fiesta, the all-electric Transit Connect Electric and soon-to-debut Focus Electric.

Ford, Honda steadily advancing in green car market 1

Ford distributed the results of its recent online survey that detailed the preferences of drivers within 30 miles cities around the country, including Sacramento.

Among the Sacarmento-are results:

* Fuel efficiency (39 percent) is the most important factor in a vehicle purchase among Sacramento drivers. Safety and style (16 percent), brand loyalty (15 percent) and technology (8 percent);

* Seventy-five percent of Sacramento-area residents responded that an electric vehicle would fit their family's needs. But 56 percent said they're not comfortable having a car with limited driving rang as their primary mode of transportation.

California leads the country in alternative fuel vehicle sales, with Sacramento as recently as 2008 10th among U.S. cities in alternative fuel car sales. San Francisco, Monterey, Los Angeles and San Diego are perennially also among the top-10 U.S. cities in alternative fuel car sales.

California's prominence in the green vehicle industry also received recent national attention when the U.S. Department of Energy announced more than $7 million to fund four projects in California, Washington and Oregon to advance hydrogen storage technologies to be used in fuel cell electric vehicles.

Sacramento was among pioneering U.S. cities where Honda first sold its Civic natural gas (CNG) edition. Introduced 13 years ago as the Civic GX, retail availability until October was limited to four states.

Now the country's cleanest emissions vehicle, the small-selling the Civic Natural Gas is available in 35 states. On average, natural gas cost 35 percent less than unleaded fuel.

As the only dedicated natural gas-powered passenger vehicle manufactured and sold in the U.S., the Honda Civic Natural Gas qualifies for a state-issued decal allowing single-occupant access to High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) "carpool" lanes in California and several other states.

Available at several dealarships throughout the Sacramento region, Honda is currently addressing the the Civic Natural Gas edition's major drawback — lack of refueling stations. The U.S. Department of Energy website highlighted only 11 refueling natural gas refueling stations within a 25-mile radius of Sacramento. Four of the locations are public, the remainder are private or for government use only.

During the regional debut of Honda Civic Natural Gas in Berkeley, manufacturer representatives said an improved natural gas home fueling system is pending as well as an increasing in public fueling stations, likely as third-party boutiques with national retailers.

Honda is including the Civic Natural Gas edition for the first time in its national sales campaigns and is hopeful of an all-time best of 3,000 sales nationwide in 2012.

Images © Bruce Aldrich/www.tahoetruckeeoutdoor.com

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