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2006 Green Vehicle Buyer's Guide

by Martha Hindes

It wasn't long ago that many people dismissed the idea of earth friendly vehicles as too futuristic. That was before the advent of global warming weather worries, soaring gasoline prices, and Cameron Diaz. She's one of the Hollywood celebrities who adopted the "green" vehicle mantel launched by actor Ed Begley, Jr. some 20 years ago by driving GM's experimental EV1 electric car. Fast forward to $3-plus gasoline, large SUVs sitting immobile in driveways and fuel price impacted wallets growing skinnier every day and the whole picture must have the folks at Mother Earth News chuckling in their organic brown rice.

The glorious and glamorous trucking around in hybrids - like Diaz or Leonardo DeCaprio in a Toyota Prius - was bound to be noticed. Suddenly it's okay to travel conservatively instead of with gluttonous abandon. And as consumers search for more fuel efficient wheels, auto makers are scrambling to get green cars to market. So far, gas-electric hybrid vehicles, led by Toyota and Honda who sell them at home in Japan, have been getting lots of attention. Ford brought out the first populist earth-pampering sport utility, the hybrid Escape -- now also trucking around Manhattan as environmentally friendly taxis. But DaimlerChrysler has a minivan that runs on ethanol, and GM blitzes TV viewers with "flex-fuel" ads for its nine car and truck lines that can switch seamlessly from gasoline to biofuels made from corn or other plants. Country singer Willie Nelson has jumped on board to push biofuel for vehicles. One internet site details how to convert a Mercedes-Benz diesel auto to run on recycled vegetable oil, that theoretically could leave the scent of French fries wafting in its wake. (And none of the above require plugging into a power outlet overnight.)

For those whose green thumbs are aimed at earth friendly ignition switches, and who don't mind at times paying a premium even with some tax credits, we offer the following array of available green vehicles to choose from. And if these aren't enough, just wait until next year.