Tesla Model S Sales Hit Mark
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.
Fiat & Smart offer small, fast EVs
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.
GM’s Chevy Spark EV will be on the market this summer.
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.
Other similar stories you might like
–Best Selling High-MPG Cars of March 2013.
–Nissan’s Ghosn Bets on Electric Cars Winning on Emotion.
–10 Best Green Cars on New List.
I ride this new e-bike past thousands strolling along the San Francisco Bay. Travelers ferry to Tiburon, Sausalito, and Alcatraz. Large catamarans race the wind as they prepare for the America’s Cup. The Golden Gate Bridge majestically displays our gateway to Asia.
I am test riding a new Specialized Turbo electric-assist bicycle. Since I live in San Francisco the roads are familiar but the speed is new. For the first time, when I leave bicycle paths and merge into traffic I can maintain the same speed as the cars. The ride feels safer and faster.
Specialized is trying to create a new category of high-end performance urban e-bike. With the touch of a button, I can shift between modes such as Turbo, Eco, and Off, as well as shift thru 8 gears. Much of the ride is in Eco-mode where the 250-watt electric motor assists my pedaling. In Turbo mode, that 342 kWh battery delivers enough power that I can sustain over 25 mph in traffic. In eco-mode I can extend the battery charge.
On flat bicycle paths I can turn off the electric assist and get a good workout. Because the aluminum-frame Turbo weighs 50 pounds, it feels like more work when pedaling without the electric motor than when riding my hybrid bicycle.
San Francisco hills that normally are a challenge to climb in my easiest gears, standing up, are now easily conquered in this e-bike.
Other bicycle riders are stunned by how easily we zip pass them. At first glance, the Specialized Turbo looks like a performance hybrid bicycle. The lithium-ion battery pack is integrated into an oversized down tube. The powerful 250-watt electric motor integrates into the rear wheel hub. The 700mm x45mm tires easily handle going over bumps and curves.
Navigant Research forecasts that annual sales of e-bicycles will grow from 31 million in 2013 to nearly 38 million in 2020. Over 100 million e-bicycles are now in use, with over 90 percent of those in China. Navigant summarizes its research:
…the e-bicycle market is in a state of change. Western Europe’s market is growing increasingly crowded with competitors and now accounts for more than 20% of global e-bicycle revenue annually. Meanwhile, North American players are finding new, younger e-bicycle consumers among those who ride for transportation rather than entertainment. Even the massive 28 million unit Chinese market is in a state of change as the government considers changes to the rules governing the market and consumers begin to recognize the value of lithium ion over lead-acid batteries.
At $5,900 for the Turbo, Specialized is reaching for the high-end of the market. Performance enthusiasts are buying the Turbo in Germany and other European countries. Now the same enthusiast are likely to buy this ultra–performance bike in the USA. With record numbers of Americans now living in cities, e-bikes have significant potential for daily commuters. In San Francisco, 6 percent of city commutes are on bicycle and the city has a goal of 20 percent by 2020. Killer hills make that 20 percent a challenge. Yes, some will spend $6000 on a high-end e-bike instead of buying a car. Many of these will get to work faster and avoid thousands in car parking annual fees. Another potential market is university students who find car mobility limited and expensive on campus.
As I loop through the massive Presidio park I notice that people are smiling at me as I pedal past them. I notice that smile frequently as I ride. This Turbo is a thrill.
In 12 miles, I used 48 percent of the battery capacity, a perfectly adequate range for a daily commuter. The battery can be fully recharged from empty in 2.5 hours with a 4-amp charger, or in 5 hours with a 2-amp travel charger, which would be handy, to take on longer rides with work or lunch stops. A commuter rack is optional for those using panniers or carrying extra stuff. The battery pack can be unlocked and carried inside to make charging convenient with any 110-volt outlet.
In my garage at home, my $1000 Specialized Sirrus hybrid bicycle now stands next to my Nissan LEAF electric car. I am tempted to spend $6,000 on a new Turbo e-bike and spend less time driving the car.
Since I am not a daily commuter, the $6,000 seems a bit extravagant. If I buy the bike then it is only fair that my wife moves ahead with her $6,000 redecorating project, so I face a $12,000 decision. Although I cannot cost justify the purchase in cents per mile, perhaps I can in smiles per gallon.
With the year one-third of the way gone, it’s a good point to review consumers’ tastes in high MPG cars. Up to this point it has looked like sales of hybrids and plug-in cars have outpaced the overall market while clean diesel sales have lagged, though that is expected to change when some high-volume models hit later this year. Overall market sales have increased 6.3% over the three months while hybrids are up 14.2%, plug-ins up 145.6% on small overall numbers while diesels basically flat–down. 0.4%). Gas and diesel prices remain high, although they have been fluctuating, which may cause some uncertainty in the marketplace. Of course, consumers also have a variety of high-mileage non-hybrid gasoline vehicles to choose from as well. What may be most impressive in this list is the variety of vehicles available to consumers–subcompacts, compacts and midsize cars and wagons; hybrids, diesels, plug-in hybrids and full battery electrics. Here are the Top 10 best sellers with some background as to how the market is going:
1. Toyota Prius – 13,868 – The Prius continues to amaze as its sales remain strong and help keep Toyota as the king of hybrids and the go-to car for MPG. The car is now edging into the Top 10 sellers nationally and is on track to hit 150,000 units for the year.
2. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 4,461 – The Camry’s hybrid version, along with the Prius triplets, help cement Toyota’s standing as the leader in hybrid sales.
3. Toyota Prius c – 4,026 – The “baby” Prius has a great month, moving up in the ranks. This smallest, least expensive hybrid in the Toyota lineup continues to draw more buyers and looks to be on the way to a solid year of sales.
4. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 3,653 – The clean diesel standard-bearer holds its own with increased sales this month compared to February. As the VW brand grows and diesel models proliferate there and elsewhere, the Jetta continues to hold its own. Its sales appear to be limited by the number of diesel engines Volkswagen can supply to the Mexican plant that builds the Jetta.
5. Toyota Prius V – 3,460 – The Prius “wagon” had a surge in sales this month and continues to post good numbers, moving ahead of its rival, Ford’s C-Max Hybrid.
6. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 3,417 – The flagship of fuel economy at Ford continues with solid sales, but couldn’t keep up with the Toyotas and VWs in the ranking. The Dearborn-based auto company is serious about fuel economy, whether its hybrids, plug-ins or its Eco-Boost high-efficiency engines now showing up across the board in models from the Fiesta to the F-150. The Fusion’s new look and features have helped propel it into being a true contender in the tough midsize segment along with the perennials–Toyota Camry, Honda Accord and Nissan Altima.
7. Ford C-Max Hybrid – 3,275 – Ford’s hybrid “wagon” had increased sales this month, but still was passed by its rival, the Prius V. It remains a big help in Ford’s move to establish itself as the first stop for fuel efficiency. Its plug-in version, along with a similar one in Fusion form, is starting to garner sales.
8. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 3,237 – The Jetta’s “big brother,” the midsize Passat, had another good month, but only managed to hold its spot in the Top 10. With the Jetta and the other TDI models from VW continue to dominate the clean diesel market the same way Toyota does with hybrids.
9. Nissan Leaf – 2,236 – A surge in sales as the new models (with lower prices) coming out of Nissan’s Tennessee plant (instead of being imported from Japan) put the Leaf in the Top 10 for the first time this year. Nissan clearly sees this as the start of a strong year.
Tesla Model S Hits Sales High
10. Tesla Model S – 1,950 – This marks a double first for the year–the first time the Tesla model has appeared in the Top 10 and the first time two electric cars have been there. While it could be read as a turning point in the market, more likely it is the result of the two battery-powered models having great months (keeping in mind the Tesla numbers are only official once a quarter since the company doesn’t release monthly sales figures).
Bubbling just below the Top 10 are a trio of hybrids and the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. The Hyundai Sonata Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid and Lexus ES Hybrid all turned in good months while the Volt dropped enough in their sales total to fall out of the Top 10, but still keep on pace for a reasonable sales year.
While Toyota dominates hybrids (68% of all hybrid sales) and Volkswagen does the same with diesels (81% of all diesel sales), the plug-in market is much more interesting. The competition is much more even with Nissan, Tesla, GM, Ford and Toyota carving up total sales with Nissan pulling in twice the sales of Toyota. It appears that every month may become a toss-up as new models gain momentum in the market (like Ford’s Energi models) or new models come in (like the Chevy Spark EV and Fiat 500e). And the plug-in market will only grow during the coming year as several other models will be launched.
High-mileage cars are off to a great start for the year with sales up 18% in these three categories in for the first three months of the year compared to last year. The monthly sales average continues to creep up so it is conceivable that sales could edge closer to a million units if the trend continues, which would definitely solidify the market for alternatives to conventional gasoline engines. The first quarter indicates it could be a very good year for high-MPG cars.
Posted April 14, 2013 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
Other similar stories you might like:
Better Fuel Economy Front-and-Center at 2013 NY Auto Show
Ford Expands Energi Lineup of Part-Time Electric Cars
Top 10 Best-Selling High-MPG Cars in February 2013
Ghosn, CEO of Nissan & Renault, sees EVs in the future
Carlos Ghosn has a lot on his plate. He’s CEO of Nissan and Renault, two large car companies on their own and one of the top tier automakers when combined as the Nissan-Renault Alliance. That 13-year-old Alliance is proving, unlike other similar attempts, to be durable and appears to give the two partners the best of both worlds –shared car technology and back end expenses while still maintaining strong individual identities.
When speaking recently at a “Open Garage” talk at Stanford’s Automotive Innovation Center, Ghosn pointed with pride that his Alliance has put 70,000 EVs on the road around the world (of the roughly 100,000 pure battery electrics currently out there). He said that in spite of failing to hit his own targets for volume, he believes electric vehicle technology will be the winner as it approaches scale production – and he believes that is inevitable. The secret ingredient, he said, was emotion. “Car emotion is the key to the future,” he emphasized. At present he is “not happy” with sales as the cars have hit “a lot of headwinds,” but he optimistically noted that Nissan can ramp up quickly if demand rises.
But putting emotion into a car many still see as an expensive, not-too-practical mobility appliance will have more challenges because the automobile does not exist in a vacuum. The changes that our society faces will mean the cars of the near future will have to address several issues while trying to establish an emotional connection with car buyers.
The first is safety. As Ghosn explained it, industry expects to see 100 million new cars on the road annually by 2020 as the world economy grows. “Is the present system sustainable,” he asked rhetorically. “We know it’s not.”
He noted there are currently six million car crashes a year in the U.S. alone and auto accidents are the leading cause of death for individuals from age 4 to 34. Ghosn added that 96% of those crashes were due to human error. “We have the technology to avoid most crashes,” he asserted. The trick for automakers is to add safety equipment without adding too much weight or cost to the vehicle.
CEO of Nissan-Renault believes EV future is bright
Ghosn cited oil dependence as the second challenge for the coming decade. While EVs are a sliver of new car sales right now, he is adamant that the “only thing missing is scale.” To reach that scale, Ghosn believes government intervention is necessary. Given Japan, China, Europe and the U.S.’s reliance on imported oil, Ghosn said he thought it was in their best interest to incentivize EV consumers and invest in an infrastructure for all kinds of efficient electric vehicles – fuel cells, plug-in hybrids and EVs. He predicted more development would bring more non-gas vehicles to market soon.
Finally, Ghosn cited autonomous driving as a key near-future trend. Cars will need to function with less input from the driver, he said. Too much unproductive time is spent in a car and growth of life expectancy is extending the potential driving ages for people. Autonomous cars could provide personal transportation for people who can no longer drive. Ghosn summed up this challenge for the auto industry as one in which they must create safer, more connected, more efficient cars, which leads them to autonomous vehicles. The safety challenge and goal of reducing petroleum use can be enhanced with autonomous technology, he noted, much of which will be coming out of the Silicon Valley area where he was speaking (and where Nissan has recently expanded it presence). The major challenge for automakers, he said, is choosing what technology will go in a car. “We have to be selective,” he concluded.
In Q&A Ghosn talked about the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe EVs, the companies’ leading foray into the electric field. He cited making the technology credible, affordable and practical (because of range anxiety) as the challenges EVs face. The first two he felt the Nissan-Renault Alliance was addressing with its latest cars and price cuts for the Leaf in the U.S., which came about primarily through sourcing components for Leaf production in this country rather than Japan. The last hurdle, he said, would only be cleared when charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations are now.
Nissan Leaf is practical & affordable, according to Ghosn
As the auto industry moves to meet the challenges he outlined, Ghosn said he foresees the need for car companies to open up their advanced engineering operations as never before. Historically very insular and secretive, he said the demands of connectivity and other advanced technologies will trump those old concerns.
He closed with a passionate appeal for the car (which will increasingly be moving to become an EV) to become “a very special object. We must avoid the car appearing like a commodity,” he said. “We need to add emotion.” He then put out a challenge to what he called Generation Now, which included many of the students in the audience. “We’re counting on [you] to imagine the future” of the automobile.
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