U.S. Bank became the first major bank to tie its automobile loan rates to a vehicle's emission and gas mileage rating.

Here's a way to impress your carbon footprint-minded friends and perhaps save a few dollars, too.

U.S. Bank became the first major bank to tie its automobile loan rates to a vehicle's emission and gas mileage rating. The bank now offers a rate reduction of half a percent on loans for so-called SmartWay vehicles certified by the Environmental Protection Agency as environmentally friendly.

The vehicles can be found on the EPA's Green Vehicle Guide at epa.gov/greenvehicles.

"Typically, our auto loans are 4.99 percent right now, so it would bring it down to 4.9 percent," said Aaron Hoefling, U.S. Bank's Rogue Valley region manager. "Half a percent can mean several hundred or even several thousand dollars in savings over the life of the loan."

Lest anyone think the offer is solely for hybrids, three-wheelers and subcompacts, Hoefling is quick to point out the program covers pickups and even Tahoes. The program also takes into account used car refinancing for vehicles up to six years old that have the EPA certification.

"It runs through a whole range of vehicles," Hoefling said. "From Ford Rangers to Ford Focuses."

By offering this discount on SmartWay designated vehicles, U.S. Bank can reward customers who want to have a more positive impact on the environment but don't want to restrict their purchase to a hybrid or alternative fuel vehicle. Approximately 16 percent of all 2009 vehicles are "SmartWay" and can be identified by the special designation on the vehicle sticker.

U.S. Bank is going one step further in its green movement by setting up all such loans on automatic payments with no paper statements.