DETROIT (AP) _ Japanese automakers are driving Americans toward a cleaner environment, while their U.S. counterparts are producing cars and trucks ranked among the worst when it comes to smog emissions and global warming, according to a report released Tuesday by an environmental group.
Honda and Toyota lead the rankings of a biennial report produced by the Union of Concerned Scientists, while Ford, General Motors and DaimlerChrysler come in last at sixth, seventh and eighth places, respectively.
Hyundai-Kia ranked third among the nation's top eight automakers, followed by Nissan and Volkswagen, according to Cambridge, Mass.-based UCS.
``I think what we see is there is still a big gap between the cleanest and the dirtiest vehicles,'' said Don MacKenzie, author of the study, which reviewed 2005 vehicle models with a gross weight of 8,500 pounds or less.
He said the group focused on the nation's top eight automakers because combined they sell the majority of U.S. vehicles and account for nearly one-third sold globally. The group ranked each company by the smog-producing capacity of their vehicles and the effect those vehicles had on global warming.
Honda Motor Co. earned its fourth consecutive ``Greenest Automaker'' distinction.
``We are very pleased,'' said Honda Vice President Edward Cohen. ``The environment is a pretty high priority for Honda.''
In 2008, Cohen said Honda will produce 100,000 hybrid vehicles. By 2010, the company is expected to introduce a clean diesel-fuel engine.
Honda was one of two Japanese automakers with better-than-average global warming scores in every vehicle class.
Toyota Motor Corp., on pace to become the largest U.S. automobile manufacturer, was the other, compiling the best global warming scores in six of 10 categories, better-than-average scores in the remaining categories. It came within 3 percentage points of earning the group's top overall ranking.
``What really surprised us was how close Toyota was to Honda,'' MacKenzie said. ``They have taken their most popular models and turned them into clean vehicles, and they have taken a clean vehicle _ the Prius _ and made it popular.''
German-American automaker DaimlerChrysler AG finished last in the final rankings for the third time in four tries. The report concluded DaimlerChrysler's cars and trucks ``have the ignominious distinction of being the dirtiest group of vehicles in any class from any of the manufacturers.''
DaimlerChrysler officials said the company is hamstrung by its reliance on trucks and minivans, which account for 70 percent of annual U.S. vehicle production.
``DaimlerChrysler complies with all federal and state emissions and environmental standards for our products and our facilities,'' DaimlerChrysler said in a statement. ``We are always working to improve the fuel economy of our vehicles, and have made great improvements in the emissions from our manufacturing operations.''
The group's report ranks automakers by averaging the smog-forming and carbon dioxide emissions of vehicle models sold in the United States. The group's first report was released in 2000 and was based on 1998 model year vehicles.