IT AIN’T EASY BEING GREEN

April 22, 2015


Kelley Blue Book (KBB)  recently examined the world of high-efficiency cars the same way a tight-fisted consumer might. That might be why five of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ten (10) most fuel-efficient cars didn’t even make the list.

I have collected photos of KBB’s best, along with a few extra shots of high-mileage vehicles that didn’t make the cut. From pure electrics to hybrids to turbo diesels, the following is a look at the best and greenest cars on the road today. Before we take a look, let’s gage our post by looking at a very brief history of KBB.

HISTORY:

In 1918, a young man named Les Kelley parked three Model T Fords in an open lot, put $450 in the till and started the Kelley Kar Company. It was to become the largest dealership in the world and, along the way, spawn a need for placing values on used and even new cars, known as Blue Book® values.

1914 was an interesting year. A 19-year-old named Babe Ruth pitched his first game in the majors as a Baltimore Oriole.  And Les Kelley, the son of a preacher from Arkansas, made his way to California at the age of 17.

Les had no money and no job, but he owned an old car. It was in fine shape because he had a knack for mechanics and had overhauled it himself. All of his friends admired his car and frequently tried to buy it. After much persuasion he finally did sell it to one of them. With the money he received from this deal Les bought another old Ford. After giving this car a thorough overhauling, he traded it off, taking in two used cars and a little money on the deal. He reconditioned these cars and sold them. With the money he bought other used automobiles and found himself making enough money to pay his way through college.

1918 was an interesting year. Babe Ruth was now a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, as they defeated the Chicago Cubs in the World Series. World War I ended on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. And like many young men at the end of the war, Les Kelley sought to establish himself in the business world. He leased part of a lot from another car dealer in Los Angeles and started the Kelley Kar Company with three cars for sale. His brother, Buster, at age 13, joined Les as a lot boy, changing tires and washing cars. By the age of 18 Buster ran the repair shop with a dozen mechanics, and Les managed sales. Les and Buster did so well that they had to move to progressively larger sites.

In the early 1920s, to help acquire new inventory, Les Kelley distributed to other dealers and to banks a list of automobiles he wished to buy and the prices he was willing to pay for them. The automotive community began to trust his judgment so much as an accurate reflection of current values, they started to request the list for their own use. When someone asked a dealer what his used car might be worth, the dealer usually took a look at Mr. Kelley’s list, conveniently tucked under his desk blotter. It didn’t take long for Les Kelley to realize that he could provide an ongoing service to dealers and bankers alike.

1926 was an interesting year for individual achievement. A 19-year-old American named Gertrude Ederle swam the English Channel. “Our Trudy” was the first woman to conquer the Channel, and her time was almost two hours faster than the men’s record. Babe Ruth led the Yankees into the World Series (although he made the final out in game seven, when he was caught stealing). Edsel Ford had risen to President of Ford Motor Company, soon to announce the Model A.

And in Los Angeles, Les Kelley decided to expand the list of automobile values he had been producing since 1918 and published the first Blue Book of Motor Car Values . He showed factory list price and cash value on thousands of vehicles, from Cadillacs to Duesenbergs, from Pierce-Arrows to Hupmobiles. A 1926 Packard sedan limousine with balloon tires might fetch as much as $3,825. But a 1921 Nash touring car, even with a clock, was only worth $50. Les named the publication Blue Book after the Social Register, because it meant that you would find valuable information inside. (Emily Post had also just published her first book of etiquette, which was to later be named Etiquette: The Blue Book of Social Usage ). And Les Kelley was to make Kelley Blue Book synonymous with the authoritative source for car values. To this day, across the country, people ask the question, “What’s the Blue Book value of my car?” At the dealership Les was selling “Selected Blue Seal Automobiles,” so he carried the blue and gold ribbon medallion onto the cover of the Blue Book, where it remains today.

By the late 1950s Les Kelley, then in his sixties, decided to cash in on some of that success. He made a decision to sell the dealerships rather than move them again (this time would have meant a move from downtown L.A., the current site of the Staples Center). By 1962 the Kelleys were completely out of the car business and devoting full time to the Blue Book , with Buster as Publisher and Bob (shown here) as Assistant Publisher. The company moved to Long Beach and later to Orange County. Les continued to be active in the business until his death in 1990, at the age of 93.

For the next 30 years the Blue Book was to thrive as a “trade” publication, meaning it was only sold to businesses involved in the automotive industry, such as car dealers, financial institutions and insurance companies. These customers used the bimonthly book to determine everything from loan values to suggested retail prices. Kelley Blue Book continued to innovate, becoming the first publication to show the effect of high or low mileage on a car’s value.

As a natural evolution, the company began publishing other value guides. A New Car Price Manual was added in 1966, and the company became the industry’s leading provider of pricing services. Auto dealers sometimes carried recreational vehicles or took them as trade-ins, so they needed information on these too. Kelley Blue Book developed RV guides that place values on everything from travel trailers to campers to ATVs to snowmobiles. A separate Motorcycle Guide was published, and a Manufactured Housing Guide.

As the quality of cars improved, people began to drive them longer. The average age of a vehicle on the road today has been estimated to be about nine years. The Blue Book covered seven years, so it made sense to produce a sister publication, the Older Car Guide , that provided values another 14 years back. Then came the Early Model Guide , which today provides values all the way back to 1946!

In 1993 Kelley Blue Book made its initial venture into the consumer marketplace by publishing a Consumer Edition of the Blue Book . It quickly became the nation’s number-one-selling automotive book, often making the USA Today best-seller list. It features 15 years of used car values on more than 10,000 models of cars, trucks and vans and is available in bookstores, auto supply stores and other locations.

Quietly though, something called the World Wide Web was introducing regular people to a medium called the Internet. It was innovation time again, and Kelley Blue Book saw a further opportunity to facilitate transactions between consumers and retailers. The company created a Web site, kbb.com, running on a single PC and offering first, new car prices in 1995 and then its famous used car values in 1996. Early in 1996, 20,000 people a month found their way to the site, largely by word-of-mouth. That number has grown a bit since then and now exceeds seven million visitors a month coming to kbb.com and millions more viewing Blue Book information on numerous portals and other automotive sites, including those of auto manufacturers and car dealers.

When kbb.com was launched in 1995, it charged consumers $3.95 for a pricing report. Almost immediately Kelley Blue Book received email from some customers arguing that information on the Internet should be free. Rather than disagree with its own customers, the company pulled the plug on charging after just three weeks and began the switch to a business run like radio and television, supported by advertising and partners. The pricing reports have been free to consumers ever since.

KBB’s 2015 RATINGS:

So much for history. Let’s now take a look at what KBB considers fifteen of the “greenest” automobiles in the lineup today.  Here we go.

VW JETTA

VW GOLF

TOYOTA CAMRY HIBRID

TESLA

SMART CAR

PRIUS

LEAF

KIA

HONDA HYBRID

FORD FOCUS

FORD C-MAX HYBRID


FIAT E

 

CHEVY VOLT

CHEVY SPARK

BMW i3

Please note, the automobiles given above, for the most part, look at mileage only. Not reliability or cost of ownership.  Those numbers represent a post for another day.  Hope you enjoy this one.

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