Honda Wins

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The results are in. Yesterday, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its 2006 fuel economy guide. And guess what? For once, the Prius didn’t win!

With all of the press that Toyota’s (NYSE: TM) little gas sipper has been getting over the past year, you may find it surprising that the car isn’t actually the most fuel-efficient on the market. That honor actually goes to Honda (NYSE: HMC) and its still-too-spaceship-looking-to-ever-be-popular Insight. Appearances aside, on paper at least, Honda’s Insight became the clear winner, scoring the same remarkable 60 miles per gallon in city driving as the Prius achieved, but edging out the Prius in highway mileage by a 20%, as the EPA calculates such things.

Other interesting factoids that I’ve gleaned from the dozen pages of the EPA report (link opens a PDF file) and its attached press release include these tidbits:

Volkswagen (Pink Sheets: VLKAY.PK) is actually the most fuel-efficient of all car companies, with four of its vehicles landing on the top-10 list of “Highest Overall Fuel Economy Models.” Volkswagen’s secret? All four of its winners are diesels.

The fifth most fuel-efficient vehicle in the world is . an SUV. Specifically, it’s Ford’s (NYSE: F) hybrid Escape, in the front-wheel-drive configuration.

If you count repeats, Ford tied Volkswagen for most fuel-efficient car company. Not only did the front-wheel drive version of the hybrid Escape place on the top 10 list, but it also had multiple entries in the eighth-place slot: the four-wheel drive version of the hybrid Escape, and its doppelgangers — 4WD hybrid versions of the Mercury Mariner and Mazda Tribute.

Actually, it seems to be a three-way race. For again, if you count repeats, Toyota sneaked four winners into the top-10 list, too. In addition to its Prius Donna — the car that gets all the glory — the hybrid variants of Toyota’s luxury Lexus SUV and its slightly downmarket Highlander twin tied for ninth place. And Toyota has the distinction of manufacturing the only non-hybrid vehicle to place in the top 10: the stick-shift version of its Corolla sedan.

As for the gas-guzzliest car company in the world, that one’s obvious: DaimlerChrysler (NYSE: DCX). There’s a fair amount of jostling down at the lower end of the fuel efficiency report, where a veritable debauchery of petrol reserve exhausting is under way. But Daimler stands wheel and fenders above such ultra-lux carmakers as Bentley, Ferrari, and Aston Martin. Together, various iterations of its Mercedes luxury models and Dodge pickups and SUVs make up eight of the 17 least fuel-efficient vehicles on the market.

In an era of $3-per-gallon gasoline, that doesn’t bode well for the chances that Daimler’s stock will continue outperforming the indices, as it has over the past year.

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