Tesla Draws High-End Electric Car Competition
Tesla Model S Leads the Luxury EV Market
Early on, in spite of the high volume of positive press and spectacular performance claims, the Tesla Model S was largely ignored by mainstream auto makers. the world’s first mass production luxury electric car was a sensation in Silicon Valley, where it was conceived, but the “big boys” in the business were unconvinced that this start-up posed any threat in the market – or would even survive. After all, its business proposition was that it would produce only electric vehicles, starting with a limited production sportscar and following with a large rear-drive sedan.
Nevertheless, two automakers hedged their bets and took a small position in Tesla in order to gain access to its technology. Those two companies, Daimler and Toyota, have since incorporated Tesla technology into their production electric cars, using it to leapfrog internal development in order to get their electric cars on the market sooner than they would otherwise.
Fast forward a couple years and the situation has shifted. Tesla is now producing its cars at the rate of more than 500 per month (still small volumes compared to the major manufacturers, but respectable). The cars continue to gather accolades and are now moving into overseas sales, while Tesla plans for a SUV-style model for next year followed by a smaller, more affordable model the year after that. The major auto makers are now viewing Tesla as a genuine threat and preparing their own response.
Up to this point most of the electric cars brought to market by the major automakers have been small, relatively affordable models. In fact, discounted leases under $200 a month have been one of the tactics that have started moving the sales needle for EVs. Tesla, with its large car and rave reviews, hasn’t had to resort to any promotional marketing as it continues to fill existing and new orders for its Model S, which has a starting price of more than $70,000.
BMW & Cadillac Enter the Market
Taking notice of this well-heeled market, BMW and Cadillac have models coming on the market this coming year while Audi and Mercedes appear to have similar projects in the works based on concept cars they have shown.
BMW i8 Combines Sportscar & EV
But neither of the first two new Model S contenders are all-in on electric drive. Both the BMW i8 and Cadillac ELR are essentially plug-in hybrids with internal combustion engines to augment their electric drive capabilities.
BMW has put its imprint on the i8 with an emphasis on performance. The $135,000 coupe will accelerate with a 96 kW electric motor driving the front wheels augmented by a twin-turbo 1.5-liter three-cylinder gas engines with 170 kW (231 horsepower) at the rear wheels. As might be expected of a BMW, the car is designed to accelerate from 0-100 km/h (62 mph) in 4.4 seconds but will deliver the equivalent of 94 mpg.
Cadillac enters the fray with the ELR, a range extended coupe using the proven Chevy Volt technology, but wrapped in a higher-tech, more luxurious package. The ELR combines a 1.4-liter four-cylinder gas engine with front-wheel electric motors producing a total of 154 kW (207 horsepower) of power. The ELR will run up to 35 miles on electricity alone before the gas engine kicks in. The ELR also boasts advanced chassis tuning with features like Continuous Damping Control that adjusts damping every two milliseconds for optimal ride and handling.
Cadillac’s ELR Rides Into Model S Territory
Both BMW and Cadillac are wrapping their luxury electrics in marketing aimed at the same high-end territory that the Model S plays in. Cadillac launches with a Saks Fifth Avenue promotional model while BMW is selling its “i Collection” of sustainable lifestyle products like mobile phone solar chargers.
Mercedes & Audi Ready Models
Mercedes is preparing a potent SLS AMG Electric Drive model that was originally due on the market this year. The all-wheel-drive all-electric sports coupe carries 552 kW (751 horsepower) and is expected to deliver a 250 km range (150 miles) on a full charge. No prices have been announced, but it can be expected to be in the supercar realm based on its specifications.
Audi has show its e-tron, which the luxury arm of Volkswagen views as eventually encompassing a series of models. The first model on the market, the A3 e-tron, was just introduced at Los Angeles Auto Show. But Audi has also shown an R8-based coupe version of the e-tron that would be more along the lines of a Tesla fighter. That concept had four electric motors totaling 230 kW (309 horsepower) driving all four wheels. No production date has been announced, but the movement from BMW, Cadillac and Mercedes is likely to spur Audi into action.
If nothing else, Tesla has spurred more serious activity in the high-end of electric cars than has ever been seen. Its success has other automakers bringing new models onto
Audi e-tron Show EV Direction
the market and promises to boost attention on EVs the same way high-end sports cars highlight attention on some of their lesser companion models. At any rate, it looks like we’re in for some fun, high-performance, luxury electric cars in the near future.
Other related stories you might be interested in:
GM & Toyota Go Opposite Directions Pricing Their Plug-ins
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segments Future
Top 10 Electric Cars You Can Buy Now
Hyundai, Honda, Toyota Lead With Zero Emission Contenders
Hyundai First Fuel Cell In The Showroom
Story & Photos (except Toyota) By Michael Coates
Electric cars running on hydrogen, creating their own electricity as they drive, are officially no longer the cars of the distant future. As Hyundai Motor America president and CEO John Frafcik said last week: “The future is much closer than you think.” Come spring, you can go to a select Southern California Hyundai dealer (one near the growing hydrogen station infrastructure), put down $2999 and drive away in a Tucson fuel cell car, a compact SUV with water as its only tailpipe emission, a 300-mile range on a tank of free (for the life of the $499/month loan) fuel, and free Concierge Service (like that offered with the Equus model). In other words, Hyundai is ushering in the hydrogen age and doing its best to make it an easy transition for the early adopters who choose to shift to zero emission driving. It made the announcement at the Los Angeles Auto Show, creating a stir among the more mundane introductions of conventional cars and trucks.
Hyundai, which has made a commitment to produce several thousand Tucson FCEVs on the same assembly line as its gas-powered cousin, is not alone as both Honda and Toyota will have their own fuel cells on sale in 2015. Both companies showed off concept cars hinting at the look of their 2015 FCEV sedans. Honda’s car, shown at the LA Auto Show a few hours before Hyundai’s announcement, was a futuristic design that will probably be tamed down for production, but clearly takes a page from its initial foray into hybrids with the 2000 Insight. Toyota’s FCEV, which was introduced at the Tokyo Auto Show, featured more conventional styling but carried the same promise as Hyundai of a consumer-friendly market approach.
Others Will Join In The Fuel Cell Parade
Of course, Mercedes, General Motors, Nissan, Ford, BMW and Volkswagen are not far behind the three leaders. All have their fuel cell cars ready to roll out (and some have done limited marketing as have Hyundai, Honda and Toyota) and are expected to hit the market prior to 2020.
The big hang up for fuel cells has been the refueling infrastructure. Unlike pure electric cars, which can rely on the ubiquity of electricity for easy, if slow, refueling, FCEVs need a network of stations to truly become a technology that can replace the internal combustion engine. Governments in Germany, Japan and Korea (and a few other spots in the world) have committed to build that infrastructure and California fell in line this year when it passed a bill to fund up to 100 stations, most of which will be located in Southern California where the cars will see their initial rollout.
Early adopters opting for the 2015 Tucson FCEV will get quite a deal. For comparison, we ran the numbers for a base gas-powered 2014 Tucson in Southern California. A 36-month lease with $2,999 down would give you $544/month payments – and you’d have to pay for your own gas and service!
Honda and Toyota didn’t have the retail details that Hyundai offered, but they made it clear that 2015 would be the introduction date of their fuel cell vehicles, which in the U.S. also will be targeted to the Southern California region with an infrastructure to support the cars.
The Hyundai Fuel Cell Deal
At the introduction, Hyundai’s Krafcik ticked off the advantages his company sees in fuel cell vehicles, compared with pure battery electrics. He also said there was plenty of room in the market for both types of zero emission vehicles, but FCEVs offered:
- Driving range of 300 miles,
- Capable of refueling in less than 10 minutes,
- Minimal reduction in daily utility compared with its gasoline counterpart,
- Minimal cold-weather effects, and
- Extensive crash, fire and leak testing.
What fuel cells share with battery electrics is instantaneous torque from its electric motor, good daily reliability and long-term durability, few moving parts, quiet operation and zero greenhouse gas emissions from operation. Krafcik noted that a UC Irvine study done this year found the well-to-wheels emissions of fuel cell vehicles to be lower not only than gas or diesel vehicles, but also battery electrics.
In addition to the straight sales pitch, Krafcik also said that the Tucson FCEVs will be available as rentals through Enterprise.
Honda Fuel Cell Concept
Honda Gets Zoomy With Its Next Fuel Cell
Honda, while adamant about the 2015 launch of its next generation fuel cell car, was less committal about planned volumes or price at the LA Auto Show. Honda has been leasing its FCX Clarity fuel cell for several years, but in very small volumes. Honda reviewed its history getting the public into its fuel cell cars, noting that the next generation’s fuel cell stack (the “engine” for an FCEV) will have a 60 percent power density improvement over the one used in the Clarity. The stack also is 30 percent smaller than its predecessor and costs have been reduced.
The Honda FCEV is a five-passenger sedan, similar in exterior size to its current FCX Clarity, but with a more spacious interior because of the smaller fuel cell stack. Honda didn’t release exterior dimensions of the concept, but said its stack would yield more than 100 KW of power output and would deliver a driving range of more than 300 miles.
Toyota Fuel Cell Concept
Like Honda, Toyota chose an auto show to unveil a concept version of the fuel cell sedan it will launch in 2015. The Camry-size four-passenger sedan, unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show last week, is a less radical design than Honda’s, appearing to be much closer to the production intent for the production version. Its released dimensions indicate it is slightly longer overall than a Camry (191.7 inches compared to 189.2 for for the Camry), has a wheelbase that is almost identical and is about a half-inch narrower. Toyota said its new fuel cell stack has a power density similar to Honda’s at 3 kW/liter, which they said represents more than twice that of its current stocks. The company also claimed reduced size and costs. Automotive News quoted Toyota officials as saying that fuel cell cars by 2020 will cost roughly the same as a plug-in hybrid to produce.
Toyota’s 2015 FCEV Concept
More Stories On This Subject:
Suddenly Hydrogen Cars Are Back
Hyundai To Produce 2,000 Fuel Cell Cars
Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses In Service
And May Reveal More About the Hurdles EVs Face Than He Meant
Energy Density Limits EVs
After a fire apparently caused by a Tesla Model S hitting some debris on the road, Tesla CEO jumped into the media fray with a letter addressing the incident. While Musk’s defense of the safety of the Model S, particularly in relation to a gas-fueled car, is well-taken, part of his letter responding to the fire (which was followed by two other fires soon after) also revealed one of the ongoing hurdles faced by electric vehicles. In spite of EVs’ great efficiency, their “fuel” doesn’t approach the density of gasoline. Here’s the key portion of Elon’s letter:
Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan. [As printed in AutoWeek magazine]
As Musk noted, the combustion energy of the Model S battery pack is only about 10 percent of the energy contained in a typical gasoline tank. But it is not only the combustion energy of a battery pack that is significantly lower than gasoline, but it’s energy density, particularly when looked at on an energy/kg basis. According to a good summary on Science 2.0, gasoline has an energy density of 44 MJ/kg while lithium-ion batteries are about 1/16th of that. In a nutshell, that helps explain why it takes only a few gallons of gasoline to take a car the same distance that would require several hundred pounds of batteries in an electric car.
The Science 2.0 author adds – and I would agree – that the energy density issue does not negate the value of EVs or their technology, it merely points out the challenges of the real world. Of course, Musk can counter that his $80,000+ Model S can take you more than 250 miles, but for those looking at electric cars in the price range of an average car, the real world limit on a charge is closer to 100 miles at best. The energy density issue remains the challenge that battery developers must overcome, along with cost issues, in order to offer an electric car that is a true alternative to today’s efficient gas and diesel cars.
For More Stories On This, Check Out:
Cars & Technology of the Future
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future
How To Find the Best Price on an Electric Car
2014 Chevy Spark EV
Chevrolet’s Minicar Offers More Torque Than a Ferrari 458 Italia
But don’t expect any cross-shopping between the two
General Motors’ website provides their Electric Vehicle Information under the Emerging Technology link, grouped with their progress on Autonomous Driving Vehicles and Hydrogen Fuel Cells. Since modern EV technology has been available to US consumers since 2009, with the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt selling more than 50,000 cars since then, it seems curious why EV would be listed as “emerging technology.” And that doesn’t even count the electric vehicles that have been rolling off production lines for more than 100 years. Maybe this is GM telling us they are not so sure about electric vehicles since they lump them with self-driving cars and hydrogen vehicles, which seem in 2013 to be still far-off concepts? This got me to thinking if it would affect the amount of attention they gave their sole pure electric vehicle, the 2014 Spark. Fortunately, it looks like my concerns are unfounded by a long shot.
The 2014 Spark EV is currently (November 2013) only available in California and Oregon and comes with a warning that there is very little dealer support outside of these states. Don’t mess with The General! The Spark, which also comes in a gasoline version, is classified as a minicar, sometimes also referenced as city, urban or sub-compact. Similar diminutive cars are the Scion iQ, Fiat 500, Toyota Yaris and Smart, to name a few.
I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT powered by a plug-in, 140 hp, 105 kW AC permanent-magnet electric motor delivering 400 lb-ft of torque at from the moment you hit the accelerator (no gas pedal, remember). So what does this get you? Coming off the line it is easy to spin the tires and gets you to 60 mph in about 7.6 seconds. Top speed is rated at 90 mph and with the 21 kWh Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery, driving range is about 82 miles. Of course using the 400 lb-ft of torque and going 90 mph will give you significantly less driving distance. In normal driving conditions, where coasting and applying the brakes regenerates electricity back into the Li-ion battery, you should be able to drive many more than 82 miles, with 100+ miles a realistic expectation.
Charging and Driving Overview
Spark EV Up Front Charging
Before even considering shopping for an EV you have to evaluate your lifestyle and driving pattern. Let’s look at what GM says in the Spark EV Owner’s Manual:
“In order to maximize range, fully charge the battery at each charge event. It is not recommended to partially charge the battery.”
In simple terms, for example with a starting driving range of 90 miles on the dash gauge, a daily commute up-to 45 miles one way and the ability to plug in while at work will get you home again with ease. If at any time you are coasting or applying the brakes during this commute then you would not need to plug in for very long while at work. Then on the weekends where you would most likely drive less than your work commute distance, the end result is never having to ever buy gasoline again. If you are budgeting $250 – $400 monthly on gasoline, owning the Spark EV will bring a giant smile to your face when passing gas stations.
In addition to the regenerative braking, the primary method to recharge the batteries are these options:
120V 17 hours: discharged to a full charge
240V 7 hours: discharged to a full charge
480V 20 minutes: discharged to an 80% charge
Here then is the Must Do when driving an EV: Always know how far you are driving until you can get to a power source and always have your batteries fully charged before venturing out.
The days of pulling off the freeway and filling-up your tank with 15 gallons of 87 octane are over. You must do the math before pushing the Start button! But what if you have an emergency and the dash gauges are flashing imminent doom of zero battery charge? If you are in California and a AAA member, you can request one of their service vehicles equipped with a 480V generator to come out and give you a charge. Just like having them dump a 5 gallon can into your gas tank, this emergency charge will get you to a power source for a full charge. Please do AAA and yourself a favor, though, and don’t rely on this roadside service as part of your travel plans.
Driving Experience: Interior
Plain and simple: I like this car. The Spark EV 2LT came with a surprising list of options such as ten airbags, a seven-inch color Driver Information Center (DIC) where you will find MyLink featuring SiriusXM, Bluetooth and
Spark Dash Spouts Info
hands-free smartphone integration. Also on the DIC are the climate settings and multiple read-outs for the battery charge status, battery life, driving range electricity usage, plus it has a nifty graphic to show when you are using electricity or putting it back in through the regenerative braking system. The DIC will keep you informed and entertained and is located top dead center in the dash for easy viewing.
The car in 2LT trim has leatherette seats (they look and feel better than it sounds), tilt steering wheel, power windows, door locks, and mirrors and a cabin air filtration system. The audio system is GM’s 6-speaker Premium Sound unit, which sounded pretty good, and also includes a USB port. On a personal note, how about knobs for channel and volume tuning instead of the touch screen?
You also have OnStar where the push of a button connects you with a friendly GM representative to handle emergencies, directions and general assistance to make your driving experience safer and more enjoyable.
With the Spark EV designed for short city driving trips, the front bucket seats are comfortable, but could use additional leg bolstering for more support. The rear seat easily handles two full size adults, but is a tight squeeze for your feet getting in-and-out. The rear bench seat splits 60/40 and has a handy center console. And even though it’s a minicar, there is room behind the rear seat for several grocery bags.
I did find a few things curious, such as the horn honking every time the brights are flashed, a very noticeable “click” when the power door locks engage and a mechanical “clunk” when setting/releasing the Electric Parking Brake. These little things are not purchase-decision deal breakers, but seemingly could be easily remedied to raise the overall impression of the car a bit higher.
Driving Experience: On The Road
This car is quick, whether it is from a standing start or at speed when accelerating to pass, and that is in the regular drive mode. For more oomph you can press the Sport mode button that pumps out even more torque, but at the expense of battery charge and driving distance.
The Spark EV 2LT comes with a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), remote start, ABS, 15” aluminum wheels, traction and Electronic Stability Control. So how does all this technology affect the drive? The Spark EV handles with a very tight turning radius and loves a sharp corner, all helped by the low center of gravity due to the batteries being located under the seats. But what makes for good handling comes at the expense of the ride, which can be harsh due to the stiffly sprung suspension designed to accommodate the 620 pound increase in weight from the Spark EV’s gasoline sibling.
I was driving the 2014 Spark EV 2LT, which included all available options on this four-door, front-wheel-drive hatchback, priced at $27,820 including the $810 destination charge. The Spark EV qualifies for Federal and State tax credits that could reduce the final cost up to $10,000 in California. Clean Fleet Report recommends contacting your CPA before considering a Spark EV purchase so you are completely clear on the tax credits and how they may benefit you. Not relying on the dealer to provide this information will serve them and you best.
Spark EV base pricing before any Federal or State tax credit programs, but including the $810 Destination Charge is:
Model EV 1LT $27,495
Model EV 2LT $27,820
Also worth noting is that in California the car qualifies for the coveted car pool stickers allowing the driver, with no passenger, to use the HOV lane. This is no small thing when trying to get anywhere on a freeway in the Golden State.
The 2014 Spark EV comes with these warranties:
Basic: 3 years/36,000 miles
Battery: 8 years/100,000 miles
Drivetrain: 5 years/100,000 miles
Roadside Assistance: 5 years/100,000 miles
Bumper-To-Bumper: 3 years/36,000 miles
Scheduled Maintenance: 2 years/24,000 miles
Observations: 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV 2LT
The Clean Fleet Report staff gets asked this question frequently: “Is an electric car right for me?” The decision to purchase an EV begins with your lifestyle and driving patterns:
• Is your driving range compatible with an EV’s limitations?
• Do you have access to an electrical outlet to plug-in at your destination?
• For trips longer than 75 miles one way, do you have access to a conventionally powered vehicle, such as gasoline, diesel or hybrid?
If these three can be checked off, then the 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV could be on your shopping list. The car handles great, seats four adults comfortably, has all the creature comfort options found in more expensive cars and is
2014 Spark EV
attractively priced, especially considering you will never buy gasoline ever, ever again. Wow, saying that out loud leaves a nice taste in your mouth!
Enjoy your new car and as always, Happy Driving!
Other related stories you might enjoy:
Electric Car Deals May Threaten Segment’s Future
How To Find The Best Price For An Electric Car
Fiat 500e Road Test