2014 Was a Banner Year for Plug-Ins: Here Are the Top 10 Companies in the Frey
We’ll be updating this list very soon. The new models we’ve driven have caused us to rethink the Top 10.
Automakers continue to increase our choice of plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars and crossovers and 2014 has turned out to be another banner year for plug-in cars. Sales are up and the availability of vehicles continues to expand. Picking the Top 10 electric car makers now involves making some choices as the number of vehicles available increases. Plug-ins are edging up towards representing one percent of the total car market. This year California led the celebration of the milestone of more than 250,000 plug-ins sold. It’s a beginning!
General Motors is #1 in plug-in hybrid sales with the Chevrolet Volt, a four-passenger compact hatchback that has 38 to 40 miles of electric range and 380 to 400 miles per gasoline fill-up range. The Volt has a starting price of about $34,185, but are eligible for federal and state incentives. Its sales are down in 2014 but that may be because a revised version is due in 2015 as a 2016 model. Styling will be updated as well as potentially a longer EV-only range and other new features. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in this car and think it’s a keeper. The versatility to drive around town and potentially commute as an electric car, coupled with the ability to take longer trips relying on the gasoline “range extender” makes it a great choice for a one-car household.
Also at GM is the all-electric Chevrolet Spark EV (on sale in California and Oregon) for about $26,685 for this fun city car with 80-mile range between charges. Sales are slow for the Cadillac ELR, which uses a plug-in hybrid drive system similar to the Volt, but it may be picking up steam. It retails for $75,000, but many discounts are available. It also may get a facelift and the new Volt system when it becomes available.
Toyota, world-leading seller of hybrids, also sells both plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars. The Prius Plug-In Hybrid looks like another Prius until you spot the J1772 plug for smart charging for a 12 to 15-mile electric range. With a
starting price of $32,000, Toyota has had some success this year as Plug-In Prius sales have boosted it to number two behind the Volt among plug-in hybrid models. Clean Fleet Report has tested it, comparing it with the better-known non-plug-in version. Toyota also offers a limited model in California: the only all-electric SUV, the RAV4 EV, with an advertised 150-mile electric range (produced with some help from Tesla, in which Toyota is a shareholder). Coming soon is the Mirai, a fuel-cell sedan with a 350-mile range and a $57,000 price tag (it goes on sale in 2015 in California). By 2015, Toyota plans to offer 21 hybrid cars with similar electric motors and advanced battery packs shared with its electric cars. First Drive: RAV4 EV. Road Test: Plug-In Prius and Prius Liftback.
Nissan is the sales leader of pure electric cars and is staying the course in its commitment to this technology. Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn reiterated recently that his company will support electric drive while also offering plug-in hybrids and fuel cell electric cars. The company’s flagship car is the Leaf, a five-door, five-seat hatchback that is the right size and range for many who drive under 100 miles daily; it’s a perfect fit for households with more than one car. Nissan makes the Leaf and its batteries in Tennessee for the U.S. market with options that include Level 1 charge, Level 2 charge at 6.6 kW/hour, and 25-minute DC fast charge. Nissan delivers great value with many dealers offering aggressive leases based on a price starting at $28,800. Road Test: 2013 Nissan Leaf
Tesla owners are the first to put 10 million electric miles on U.S. roads and the company is now heading overseas to find more buyers for its high-end pure electric car. More than 30,000 Teslas are now roaming American roads, although sales have dipped a bit this year. The roomy Model S luxury sedan starts at about $71,000, but now offers an all-wheel drive version that features even faster acceleration. Production of the Roadster, the company’s initial product, ended after deliveries totaling 2,500. The Model S has a remarkable electric range options of 160 to 300 miles per charge. Tesla helped shareholder Toyota to bring back the Toyota RAV4 EV, an electric SUV and also aided its other OEM shareholder, Daimler, with the Smart ED and B-Class Electric. The company is taking orders for the Tesla Model X Crossover SUV with optional AWD, with deliveries starting late in 2015. Tesla continues to battle with auto dealers in many states as it tries to establish a direct-sales model, although founder Elon Musk has admitted his sales plan may not work when they move to the more mass-market Model 3 in a couple years. Tesla News. More Tesla News.
Ford is giving customers the greatest choice in all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars and crossovers. The new Ford C-Max Energi is a 5-door, 5-seat, crossover with more room than a small SUV. The C-Max Energi is a plug-in hybrid with 14 to 20-mile electric range and 620 mile total range. It is well priced at about $33,700. If you prefer a classic sedan, the Ford Fusion Energi uses the same plug-in drive system, and similar electric and total range. The Ford Focus Electric is an all-electric with 80 to 100-mile range, priced at $39,200. Of course, Ford also has non plug-in versions (hybrid) versions of the C-Max and Fusion. Though it’s had some issues with the real world ranges of its offerings, Ford has been an increasingly strong force in the market, challenging and often beating rival Toyota in sales. Ford Focus Electric Road Test. Ford Fustion Energi-Road Test. Ford C-Max-First Drive.
BMW is delivering the i3 in two versions, an all-electric or one with a small range-extender gasoline engine. Initial sales are strong with the i3 shooting to a solid third in sales among pure electrics after the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S. Its carbon-fiber cabin makes it one of the lightest cars on the market for its size and allows BMW to use smaller electric motors and batteries while still producing the expected BMW performance. The car is the size of a BMW 1-Series on the outside but has the interior space of a 3-Series and will comfortable hall four adults in BMW-style comfort. The i3 body consists of two independent modules: the Drive Module consists of an aluminum chassis and the powertrain with the lithium-ion battery, the performance electronics and a compact but powerful electric motor.
The BMW i8 plug-in hybrid sports coupe that dazzled movie audiences in Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol is beginning sales and is also proving popular, topping the Cadillac ELR in a recent month. BMW extends the swoopy coupe’s range with innovative super-strong, yet lightweight materials including aluminum frame and carbon fiber reinforced plastic (CFRP, also found on the i3). If you have six figures to spend on a car that will definitely stand out as green with go, the i8 should be on your shopping list. While only packing a turbocharged three-cylinder engine to augment its electric drive, the car turns in an impressive 360 horsepower driving all four wheels. We road tested the BMW i3 and found it to be a very capable, if a little quirky electric car. The i8 I can only dream about at this point, but I’ve seen it up close and it’s as exotic as you might expect for a $125,000 sports car.
Honda is selling the 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid, a premium midsize sedan with comfort for 5. Starting at around $39,800, the Accord Plug-in Hybrid rates high in efficiency at 115 combined mpg, 15-mile electric range, and 574 total range. For a few hundred test drivers, the all-electric Honda Fit EV can be leased for $259 per month. The new compact 5-door 5-passenger hatchback electric car uses Blue Energy lithium-ion battery pack for a 100-mile all-electric range. Honda’s also promoting a broader vision that integrates the Fit EV into a house designed to produce all of its energy both for the house and car. Road Test: Honda Accord Hybrid. Honda Smart “Electric” House.
Daimler is the automotive giant that owns Mercedes, Smart, and is also a Tesla stockholder (though it’s in the process of divesting that investment). The new Smart ED can be purchased for only $25,000 ($17,500 after federal tax credit). The 2-seat Smart ED is now in its third generation and has a range of about 70 miles, which is great for cities and universities. In San Diego, 12,000 members of Car2Go car sharing program drive 300 of these Smart Electrics. Mercedes has two versions of its B-Class compact, a pure electric and an fuel cell electric vehicle with a more than 300 miles of range, the only versions of that car available in the U.S.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV fits into tight parking spaces and tight electric car buyer budgets. The Mitsubishi i starts at about $29,000. This fun-to-drive 5 door, 4 seat hatchback, fits in those precious city parking spaces too small for most cars. The i-MiEV has an electric range of 62 miles (EPA adjusted) with a 16kWh lithium battery. Although it’s been modified for the US market it still feels very much like the Japanese-market original, which is to say, less substantial than many of its competitors. Mitsubishi also reiterated its intent to bring a plug-in version of its popular Outlander SUV to the U.S. this coming year.
Fiat, which owns Chrysler, is now selling the Fiat 500e for a fun all-electric city car. We think it’s the most fun car of the EV bunch. Very affordable lease deals are available for this spunky EV. It manages to carry through the Italian charm and personality found in its gas models. The major drawback, which could be an advantage in an urban location, is the small size of the vehicle. As a two-door with a small back seat, its capability of carrying four adults is limited. Road Test: Fiat 500e.
Two more automakers could muscle their way into this Top 10 list. Keep your eye on Volkswagen as it introduces the e-Golf, an electric version of its compact hatchback and the promised introduction of a plug-in hybrid Jetta sedan. We’ve tested the e-Golf and think it could be a winner. Kia has its Soul EV on the market and we’ve already has a chance to drive it as well. Then there’s Porsche with its plug-in Panamera sedan with a Cayenne and 918 plug-in also coming to market. Other companies have teased plug-ins, but we’ll wait until we see hardware before adding them to any list.
U.S. Electric Car Forecast
Electric car sales were expected triple in the U.S. each year from 20,000 in 2011 to 60,000 in 2012 to 180,000 in 2013; they missed that mark in 2013 by a wide margin, but sales are still stronger than the early years of hybrid cars. Accenture and some others were forecasting more than one million electric vehicles (cumulative) in the United States by 2015, but those numbers are being pushed out. Single electric utilities have scenarios for charging over one million electric vehicles in their own service area by 2020. With renewable energy investment required of utilities in 30 states, these utilities are most interested in night time charging of electric vehicles with wind, geothermal, and hydropower. Utilities are also implementing smart grids and incentives for off-peak charging. It’s a tough business. Even Tesla had to add 700 pounds and two years to get the first Roadsters in customers’ hands. Fisker offered a beautiful $100,000 Karma luxury sports coupe, but filed for bankruptcy in 2013. It may now return with new owners. Coda offered an all-electric sedan with more range than the LEAF and Focus Electric but failed to find a market and closed operations. Battery makers, such as Panasonic, Sanyo, LG Chem, and Samsung see strong growth, while others such as A123 and EnerDel struggle in the face of intense competition.
California and seven other states reaffirmed their goal to have 3.3 million electric cars (including plug-in hybrids and fuel cells) on the road by 2025. The numbers are basically accounted for in the ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) mandate that the states have in place, but rely on a steep ramp up of sales after 2020.
New models coming on the market to help boost sales include the VW e-Golf, Audi A3 e-tron and Hyundai and Toyota’s fuel cell electrics. It looks like it’s going to be quite a ride.
China/India/Korea Prepare for the U.S. Market
For years we have read about China’s plans to bring electric cars to the U.S. Although China’s U.S. ambitions have slipped badly, its automakers cannot be ignored. China has over 100 million light electric vehicles, e-bikes and e-scooters in daily use. It’s new 5-year plan calls for 100 million electric charging stations in China by 2020. BYD, with gold-plated investors such as Warren Buffett, has only put a few hundred electric vehicles on the road in China and continues to delay introduction to the United States. Volvo, now owned by China’s Geely has the new C30 Drive E Electric, but the Volvo electric car will be selling only in Europe in the short-term. SAIC, Chery, and hundreds of players are also preparing EVs for China. India might bring us a Maharinda Reva or Nano EV that under prices everyone, but given recent European crash tests of those models, they are unlikely to show up here anytime soon. Korean manufacturers, already tearing up the U.S. market, have announced that the Soul EV will go on sale this year.
Europe, with higher fuel prices and fewer oil subsidies, is forecast to have more electric cars by 2020 than the United States. But it will not be a smooth road. Better Place was expected to deliver 100,000 of the Renault Fluence with its switchable battery to Israel, Denmark, Australia, and even U.S. taxi fleets, but the company filed for bankruptcy in 2013. Volkswagen may teach everyone how to extend range by making vehicles light. The concept Up Light weighs just over 1,500 pounds and it’s coming on the market soon. We loved test-driving the Volkswagen Golf Blue E-Motion and expect to see it late in 2014. The Audi E-Tron may show up by 2015. Competition will be tough.
There is a lot of innovation from around the world that did not make this Top 10 List, which focuses on the U.S. market for the next 12 months. Please bookmark this Top 10 List and check back as we update. Exciting new electric cars are being driven on the U.S. streets and freeways. Nissan is an early mover with battery-electric cars and General Motors with plug-in hybrids. Competition increases from Mitsubishi, Ford, Toyota, Honda, and dozens of Asian, European and American innovators. The winner will be the customer.
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