Electric vehicles (EV) are in the news on a daily basis, globally as well as locally--featured in articles in local, nightly news reports as well as national glossy magazines. Everyday you can find that another company is set to release an electric car this year or a young startup has discovered some groundbreaking technology that will suddenly change the industry.
It's becoming more and more difficult to understand if this is simply electric vehicle hype or if we are witnessing an EV Revolution that is a clear and distinct paradigm shift, marking move away from gasoline powered vehicles to those powered by electricity.
It's helpful at this point to perform an electric car survey of the various car companies--both new and old--to see what is perhaps going to be released in the next year or so. The mix essentially contains established, larger auto manufacturers like Toyota, Nissan and GM with a large development budget and plenty of resources and those smaller upstarts like Tesla, Fisker and Aptera who are struggling to find a legitimate place at the table. All parties are ultimately fighting for what is currently a rather limited, but seemingly growing, electric vehicle market.
Electric Vehicles from Large Automakers
Audi is planning on releasing several electric vehicles, their e-tron line, in the coming years including a battery powered model of their high-end R8, the e-tron, in 2012. A converted Audi A2 drove 375 miles on a single charge last year, but this was a display of a battery technology from DBM Energy rather than an Audi product.
BMW has already made some good progress on the EV front with the test fleet of the Mini E. The company doesn't seem to have plans to produce a retail version of this model anytime soon. However the BMW EV development will evolve this coming year or two with the release of the Megacity project. We should see the four passenger ActiveE hit the streets under similar terms as the Mini E in late 2011. A limited number of individuals will be able to lease the car for a reported $499 a month. The i3 EV city car may be available sometime in 2013.
Fiat/Chryler is working on an electric model of the Fiat 500, aptly, if a bit unoriginal, the Fiat 500 EV. This car, similar in size and shape to the Nissan Leaf should make its appearance in the US by 2012, although it's slated to sell in the $45,000 range. This price, about 3 times what you'd pay for the gas model of the 500, will supposedly lose the company $10,000 per car.
Ford has been working on releasing an all-electric version of the Ford Focus, the Focus EV, and should have something available by the beginning of 2012 or possibly the very end of 2011. This is probably the most anticipated EV car expected to come out next year since it should compete directly with the Nissan Leaf. The range and amenities are comparable to the LEAF though pricing details have yet to be released. Most analysts feel the car will come out in the $35-40K range.
GM doesn't, technically speaking, have an all-electric vehicle on the market; however, most people are willing to lump the Chevy Volt into the mix since it is possible to drive the car for extended periods of time using only electricity. The Volt was released in very limited quantities in 2010 and has been slowly amping up production and delivery throughout 2011 and beyond. The company hopes to produce somewhere between 40,000 and 100,000 vehicles by 2012.
Honda has been a bit late to the game, allowing other companies like Nissan and even Toyota to get a bit of a head-start in the EV world. The company seemed to initially put its resources towards hydrogen, releasing a test fleet of the FCX Clarity last year. The company will, however, be producing an electric version of the Fit with demonstration models set for this year and released for sale by 2012.
Mitsubishi made some early ground with the announcement a couple of years ago of the i-MiEV. They've made some changes to that original design, making the car a bit longer and wider. The new all-electric vehicle will be called the Mitsubishi i and may see US showrooms by the end of 2011. The car will likely have a bit less range than the comparable Nissan Leaf, something around 85 miles per charge, but is expected to cost under $30,000.
Nissan has made the biggest splash this year with the Nissan LEAF, and it will be interesting to see how they'll do moving forward. They have clearly generated a lot of interest and should leverage the attention and the knowledge they've accumulated to become the preeminent electric car company. Nissan is working with Renault on a EV partnership that may see multiple electric models trickle out, though many of those will stay in Europe only. Infiniti is planning to release a five-seat sedan in 2013.
Smart, an automotive branch of Daimler, has a limited number of electric models out now and plan to make a retail model available in 2012.
Toyota clearly has designs to move into the electric market, though they are still firmly committed to their very successful hybrid vehicles models at the moment as well. Working in conjunction with Tesla Motors, Toyota is working on a revived all-electric Rav4, soon available in limited fleet numbers and likely available in a production version by 2012. The company is also expected to release an electric version of the Scion iQ and may also produce an electric Lexus SUV. It's also important to note that the newest version of the Toyota Prius has plug-in capabilities and can be driven in all-electric mode for up to 13 miles and 62 mph.
Volkswagen is also a little late to the EV game, relying on their extremely efficient diesel drive trains to support their green credibility. Not to be outdone, however, they too have plans in the works to release electric versions of the Jetta and Golf by 2014. They may get something out a bit sooner in the form of the E-Up, an all-electric version of their Up minicar, set to hit the streets in 2013.
Volvo has produced an electric concept car, the C30 Electric, that is currently out being testing in limited numbers, but no word on a timeline for a production electric car from the Swedish carmaker. Early reports are that this car will never see US soil and will only be available in Europe.
Saab and Suzuki are also slated to have electric vehicle projects in the works, but details are not too clear at this time.
Electric Vehicles from Small Automakers and Startups
Aptera made quite a splash a few years ago with their futuristic three-wheel design and ambitious plans for the Aptera 2e electric car, originally set to hit the streets back in 2009. Unfortunately, we still don't have anything available from the company except an ever-moving release date. The company awaits further funding, namely a government loan under the Department of Energy's Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing (ATVM) loan program, to continue production of the sleek electric vehicle.
BYD made some news a couple of years ago when Warren Buffett purchased 10% of the Chinese company, and it seemed like they were going to storm US soil with a steady stream of affordable electric cars. This stream has been held up for the time being, but the E6 is expected to be available now by 2012. The company does currently have a presence in the US now, though, as there is a test fleet of 10 cars in Los Angeles of the company's plug-in hybrid, the F3DM.
Coda is another company that had an electric car pending release for 2010 but has now pushed back to the latter half of 2011. Though Coda is based in the US, the company's first sedan will be manufactured in China and is set to sell for around $45,000 before any tax credits or rebates. The company has had some shakeups in management this year and was delayed a bit while looking for further funding to complete their first build. They look to have overcome these problems and are still hoping for a successful launch, targeting 10,000 to 14,000 sales in their first 12 months.
Fisker, with the production of their sleek, sporty sedan, the Karma, are not offering an all-electric vehicle, instead banking on the plug-in series hybrid model like the Chevy Volt. That is, an electric motor will move the car and a gasoline engine will provide a charge of the batteries for additional range. The $95,000 car will be capable of an all-electric range somewhere around 50 miles with an additional 250 miles of range available courtesy of the charge from the 2.2 liter engine. The Karma, manufactured for the time being in Finland, is expected to hit the first group of VIP customers in mid 2011...a couple of years behind schedule, but here nonetheless. Fisker expects to develop and build additional models in the next few years including a small sedan to be built in Delaware in 2012.
Tesla has undoubtedly received the most attention of all the electric car companies, due in large part to its revolutionary Tesla Roadster. The Roadster, of course, was really the first car to break the mold of what most consumers thought an electric car could be, usually just a glorified golf cart. The Roadster has garnered a lot of attention for Tesla Motors, though the car is actually going to be discontinued soon. The new Tesla car, the Tesla Model S, is in the final stages of testing and is scheduled to be available mid-2012. The company is already taking orders for the car and has several thousand buyers already lined up.
The company is expected to reveal its next vehicle, the SUV dubbed the Model X, sometime in 2011 with an expected release in 2013. Plans are also being made for a more economical model to be available in 2015.
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