Is the Prius green? I’m concluding the short answer is yes. This comes not from doing calculations myself, but rather relying on information from “major”-ish news sources.
I define green here as producing less CO2 over the entire life cycle of a car than the competition.
Most confusion on this issue stems from a 2007 report titled “Dust to Dust” by CNW Marketing Research (an automotive market research company) that concluded a Hummer is greener than Prius. Unfortunately I can’t easily find a copy of this report (CNW took it down) , but a variety of sources (here, here) document issues with the conclusions. Most notably, the report apparently listed the lifetime of a Prius as 109k miles and the Hummer at 379k miles. Consensus online appears to be the report is discredited. I think it’s telling that I can’t find any other mention of a credible report questioning the overall CO2 savings of a Prius (or other hybrid).
The Prius does indeed consume more energy during production than conventional cars, but driven to 160k miles, the Prius wins in terms of overall carbon emissions. ACEEE rankings, list Prius near the top of green cars.
A Fox News article also concludes Prius is green (have to scroll all way to bottom to find it).
There are a lot of reasons to buy a Prius. You get conspicuous conservation with your easy advertisement for how green you are. You get to drive in an obnoxious way while maximizing your mpg. Your car looks so weird it is bound to get attention (though not so weird now since it’s a best seller). And you can feel smug.
Driving a Prius won’t save the planet (whatever that means), but it appears to produce less CO2 over its entire life cycle than conventional cars.