Mercury Mariner HybridClick to enlarge picture

Four SUVs made the J.D. Power and Associates list of environmentally friendly vehicles; one of those being the Mercury Mariner Hybrid.

The new AEI study takes into account information from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and consumers related to fuel economy, air pollution and greenhouse gasses for vehicles from the 2006 model year. Fuel economy accounts for about half the score.

Of the 30 vehicles that made the list, eight feature gas-electric hybrid powertrains. The hybrids include the Ford Escape Hybrid, Lexus RX 400h, Mercury Mariner Hybrid and Toyota Highlander Hybrid. These four were the only SUVs to make the cut. No pickup trucks or minivans were considered environmentally friendly.

Photo Gallery: Top 30 Environmentally Friendly Cars

Only two vehicles that J.D. Power considers luxury models made the list—the Lexus RX 400h and Acura RSX.

Among automakers, Ford, Honda and Toyota had the most vehicles on the list, with six vehicles each from their various nameplates. General Motors and Volkswagen placed three vehicles apiece. The sole German automaker with vehicles on the AEI list, Volkswagen had the Golf, Jetta and New Beetle among the top 30. However, the diesel versions of these models did not make the cut.

"High gas prices, coupled with consumers becoming more familiar with alternative powertrain technology, are definitely increasing consumer interest in hybrids and flexible fuels," said Mike Marshall, director of automotive emerging technologies at J.D. Power and Associates. "However, the additional price premiums associated with hybrid vehicles, which can run from $3,000 to $10,000 more than a comparable non-hybrid vehicle, remain the biggest concern among consumers considering a hybrid. The AEI highlights several non-hybrid models available that help consumers reduce fuel use and emissions."

According to the study, there is high interest in hybrids and vehicles that run on alternative fuels such as diesel or E85. In fact, J.D. Power reports that less than 25 percent of respondents will only consider a gasoline-powered car for their next purchase.

But there are some misconceptions. Consumers purchasing hybrid vehicles expected a fuel-economy improvement by 28 mpg compared to a similar powered gas-only vehicle. Reality, however, showed hybrid buyers only gaining an improvement of 9 mpg. Diesel buyers were similarly disappointed, reporting a 12 mpg improvement when an improvement of 21 mpg was expected.

"One of the biggest challenges for alternative powertrains is that consumers often have unrealistic expectations for the fuel-saving abilities of these vehicles," Marshall said. "And particularly with hybrids, actual fuel performance often doesn't live up to the vehicle's EPA estimate. There is a real need to educate consumers about the technology and its benefits. Managing consumer expectations and lowering the cost premium will be instrumental in accelerating acceptance."

The AEI is based on data from 4,000 consumers who plan to purchase a vehicle within the next two years.

Listed in alphabetical order, the top 30 environmentally friendly vehicles according to the J.D. Power study are:

Acura RSX
Chevrolet Aveo
Chevrolet Cobalt
Ford Escape Hybrid
Ford Focus
Ford Focus Wagon
Honda Accord
Honda Accord Hybrid
Honda Civic
Honda Civic Hybrid
Honda Insight
Hyundai Accent
Hyundai Elantra
Kia Rio
Kia Spectra
Lexus RX400h
Mazda Mazda3
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Mercury Mariner Hybrid
Nissan Sentra
Saturn Ion
Scion xA
Suzuki Reno
Toyota Camry
Toyota Corolla
Toyota Highlander Hybrid
Toyota Prius
Volkswagen Golf
Volkswagen Jetta
Volkswagen New Beetle

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