For all the twists and turns that the auto industry undergoes, it looks like 2013 will be a clear milestone for electric cars. There are caveats, but we’ll deal with them later. The point here is to look at how far we have come and note the arrival of the electric car industry. It’s no longer a model or two, but a substantial variety of vehicles from major manufacturers from which the EV-conscious consumer can choose. Even with some drop-offs, by this summer we’ll have at least 10 all-electric EVs to choose from; sorry, plug-ins, if you have an internal combustion engine you can’t make this list. This is for the hardcore – consumers who want to divest their transportation of the direct use of fossil fuels.
Some of these models are available in limited numbers or in limited locales (there’s one big caveat), but they are almost all from major manufacturers, backed with warrantees and dealer service. And this group, while small now, is destined to grow exponentially in the coming years as the market builds. For now, 10 EVs represents an achievement. Here’s a run-down what’s on the market now (or very soon) as well as some we’ve lost and some new entries due next year.
1. Tesla Model S – You have to start with this model. Though priced in the stratosphere, it was one of the best selling EVs of the first quarter of 2013 on the strength of solid reviews and pent-up demand. Its sales propelled Tesla into cash-flow positive territory and backs up its goal of selling 20,000 units this year.
2. Nissan Leaf – One could make a good argument that this car should be the first mentioned in any EV list. It was the first mass-produced EV on the market and streams into 2013 with both a lowered starting price as well as new high-end features. The combination appears to be working as sales hit a new high in March 2013, a trend that Nissan hopes to extend throughout the year as its has shifted production of the car and its battery pack to the U.S.
3. Ford Focus EV – Ford’s leading electric-only model is not making a big dent in sales, but it is a clear indication of Ford’s intent to remain active in the plug-in segment, augmenting the better-selling Energi models.
4. Toyota RAV4 EV – Toyota has revived an electric-only RAV4 model (it’s first foray was in the 1997-2003 model when several hundred were produced and sold in California to meet the state’s zero emission vehicle mandate). The compact SUV features a battery pack developed by Tesla, but sales will be limited as the vehicle is being used only to comply with California ZEV mandate, much like the first version.
5. Mitsubishi i (or i-MiEV) – This diminutive EV from Mitsubishi was redesigned for the U.S. market and has garnered some sales, but continues to lag behind the competition.
6. Honda Fit EV – Honda’s entry into the EV market, like Toyota’s, is available in only limited numbers and only for lease, but sales don’t appear to yet be anywhere near the projected number the company is going to build. Reviews of the car indicate it acquits itself well.
7. BMW ActiveE – The ActiveE is BMW’s second round in the EV wars, following on the MINI-E. Although it is only available for lease, the vehicle’s performance in a short drive appeared to meet the BMW brand’s image. It features the powertrain that will be in next year’s i3.
8. Smart Fortwo ED – Mercedes is now on its third generation of the electric version of its two-seat minicar. They’ve jettisoned the Tesla battery pack of the second generation and replaced it with one from SB LiMotive (which also supplies the Fiat 500e and BMW i3) along with a more powerful electric motor. With its increased top speed, it appears the only thing holding this low-priced EV back is its small size and limited seating.
9. Fiat 500e – Just on the market is another small EV from Europe, an electric version of Fiat’s 500 model. Early reviews indicate it carries over the performance and image of the gasoline version of the car.
10. Chevy Spark EV – Due this summer is another small EV, this one from General Motors. Based on the company’s Daewoo-designed model, the Spark EV is going to be assembled in the U.S. Early reviews of the car have described a car that delivers substantial power for its diminutive size.
There you have it. Ten models offering a variety of configurations and price ranges, but all powered only by electricity. With a list like this, even with their limited availability, it appears we have passed out of the earliest phase of the EV and are steadily moving toward the category’s establishment as a permanent part of the automotive landscape.
Note that this is the EV-only list; it’s augmented by a growing list of plug-in vehicles, led by the Chevy Volt, that also promote the electrification of the automobile and move away from petroleum as a primary transportation fuel.
More to Come
While this group is impressive, there are more to come. Sometimes new model introduction timetables slip, especially when dealing with advanced technology, but these appear to be heading to market in 2014:
• BMW i3
• Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive
• VW e-Golf
Others are likely coming as well if the market begins to pick up momentum.
Without going back a decade to recall the first generation of modern EVs that came and went quite quickly (and not always with any sadness), it should be noted that several EVs of recent vintage are already gone, a measure of the brutal nature of the consumer automotive marketplace. The previously mentioned MINI-E is out of production as is the Tesla Roadster. The companies producing the Think City and Ford Transit Connect EV have gone into bankruptcy, followed most recently by Coda Automotive of Los Angeles.
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