Tesla has set out from the beginning to challenge everything in the auto industry. Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk characterizes himself as an outsider selling a an electric car the auto industry has said it couldn’t build or sell and he set up a network of dealers and chargers all owned by his company. The vertical integration might be something a founding titan like Henry Ford might have appreciated, but it has run into problems in 21st century automotive retail business world.
The issue is state-by-state franchise laws, which set up the conditions for the retail sale of automobiles. They have a long history, rooted in protection for local businesses against potential predatory practices by the deeper pockets of a factory-owned store. Consumer protections are also a part of the franchise system, in theory guaranteeing local recourse for any issue a consumer might have with a product that could have been produced on the other side of the globe.
Tesla argues that the model, like the auto industry itself, is dated and not reflective of new world of electric cars and online ordering. In addition, Tesla says as a start-up it poses little threat to larger, established dealerships and as a purveyor of online pure electric cars, it needs factory control to ensure the educational message about this new technology is fully transmitted.
These things do take time. Wishful thinking won’t get us there. Government money can help, but ultimately it can only play a minor role if the goal is the transformation of a fleet. Cars and trucks that are better alternatives to gasoline ones in every way will be the only way to make it happen. That’s the way gasoline won out over electricity and steam 100 years ago. That’s why diesel won out over gasoline in Europe 15 years ago. That’s why the Toyota Prius is the 10th best-selling car of 2013.
No one should doubt that 2013 was a breakthrough year for advanced technology vehicles, whether running on electricity, gasoline, diesel or some combination of the three. The choices expanded, prices dropped and infrastructure exploded (for plug-ins). This year presents an abundance of riches; as I wrote earlier, we (at least we in California) now have 10 pure electric vehicles to choose from–and 2014 promises and expanded roster of choices. I had the opportunity this year to sample more than half of those available. Add in plug-in hybrids and the list of EV choices almost doubles, while traditional hybrids, clean diesels and high-MPG gasoline vehicles ranks keep growing both in number and popularity.
One of the simplest ways to reduce vehicle fuel consumption is to shut off the engine when it is not being actively used. That’s where stop-start technology comes in, so get ready for its invasion.
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 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.
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). Honda and Toyota will soon follow with their own fuel cell models.
The energy density of your fuel — whether it is electricity or gasoline/diesel — determines how far you can go on a “tank” but is measured on a per kilogram basis. As Elon Musk explained following a fire in one of his Tesla Model S cars, there is less potential “combustion” in a battery pack than in gasoline. But that is why electric cars have a shorter range than gasoline or diesel ones.
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 hands-free smartphone integration. 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.
While price cuts and low lease rates have been moving electric cars like never before, resulting in “sold out” models and tight supplies at some dealerships, there may be a dark side to the deals. When discounts like this happen in the rest of the auto market and residual values drop, the impact on auto companies is clear. Profits on the discounted vehicles drop and the models are often dropped or given a redesign aimed at revitalizing or repositioning them in the eyes of the consumer. For new models, it is often the kiss of death.
To transform the vehicle fleet, you need to work on both ends — accelerating the purchase of cleaner new vehicles and the retirement of old clunkers. The California legislature is sending a package of bills to Governor Brown’s desk that does just that. Taken as a whole, these policies will ensure Californians at all income levels enjoy the environmental, public health, and financial benefits of cleaner, more efficient vehicles.
The Nissan Leaf was the best selling plug-in car in July and has just lost the lead for the year-to-date electric car sales to the hot-selling Tesla Model S, another pure electric. It’s fair to say that where the Leaf is selling well, electric cars are selling well. Here are the Top 10 markets for Nissan Leaf sales.
Numerous peer-reviewed articles have reached the same conclusion — from cradle to grave, electric cars are the cleanest vehicles on the road today. And unlike cars that rely on oil, the production of which is only getting dirtier over time, the environmental benefits of electric cars will continue to improve as old coal plants are replaced with cleaner sources and manufacturing becomes more efficient as it scales up to meet growing consumer demand.
Toyota’s 2013 RAV4 EV is the automaker’s second go round of converting its small gasoline powered sport utility to an electric vehicle. From 1997 to 2003, 1,484 RAV4 EVs were leased or sold. Of those, Toyota says approximately 449 are still on the road. This time around, rather than develop the electric RAV4 on its own, Toyota joined forces with upstart Silicon Valley electric carmaker Tesla Motors in a collaboration to develop and engineer the latest all-electric RAV4.
The enthusiast group Plug In America noted that, for the first time, U.S. sales of plug-in electric cars (either pure electrics or plug-in hybrids) market will pass a significant milestone this month (May). The 100,000th mark was reached just past two years after their introduction to the market.
For all the twists and turns that the auto industry undergoes, it looks like 2013 will be a clear milestone for electric cars. 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 that the EV-conscious consumer can choose from.