It's Not Easy Being Green

Last Updated Aug 20, 2007 7:10 PM EDT

Sure, Toyota's Prius has helped the company dominate the U.S. auto market, but green vehicles aren't necessarily slam-dunk successes.

Honda announced earlier this week that, after three years of lackluster sales, it's discontinuing the Accord hybrid. Trying to strike the right balance between fuel efficiency and power, Honda chose a six-cylinder engine for the mid-sized hybrid, which averaged a measly 28 mpg compared to the Prius's 46 mpg.

Manufacturers of powered outdoor equipment are faring about as well as Honda as they try to cut emissions by using alternative fuels and hybrid engines. Dixie Chopper has only sold 200 of its propane-powered riding mowers. Rick Judy, the company's media marketing manager, says, "It's like anything else. The first one that comes out, everyone wants to shy away" from it.

Americans are known as late-adopters, but the products that are doing the best either are extremely fuel-efficient (Toyota Prius) or solve another problem, too. John Deere's hybrid riding mower, designed for golf courses, runs quietly and reduces hydraulic fluid leaks that kill grass. Arctic Cat's biodiesel-powered ATV not only gets 50 percent better fuel economy and produces fewer emissions, but it also runs better.

Maybe the key to success of these vehicles is more aggressively marketing the benefits besides just fuel economy.