As Nissan, GM, Ford, and Coda roll out brand spankin’ new electric vehicles, 2011 is being hailed as the year of the electric car. Some are expressing doubt, however, about how well they will fare. The AP reported last week that only 10 Nissan Leafs have been sold within the previous two weeks and GM had sold between 250 and 350 Chevy Volts. The wait lists for the cars is 50,000 long and it could be months before the average Joe-Schmoe can walk into a car dealership and buy a car on the spot.
To get a better idea of what’s available and what’s to come, let’s break down the facts to see how each of the four major electric vehicles debuting this year might fare in the coming months.
One of the most talked about cars of the year, the Nissan Leaf rolled out in December with an EPA measured range of 73 miles per charge and a fuel economy equivalent to 99 gallons per mile. Short for Leading, Environmentally friendly, Affordable Family car, the Leaf comes in two trims: the SV trim and the SL trim. The SV trim includes an advanced navigation system and smartphone connectivity.
In a review of how the car handles, one San Diego man, who became the second person in the world to own a Nissan Leaf, described it as a paradigm shift. In describing the acceleration, he noted that when driving a traditional gas-powered vehicle, there’s a lag time of perhaps a quarter of a second as the gas delivers power to the drivetrain to make the car move, but in the Nissan Leaf, “I push on the accelerator and it’s immediately delivering power to the wheels, at essentially the speed of light,” he told a reporter from PlugInCars.
In early 2010, Hertz announced that it would be adding the Nissan Leaf to its line of rental cars, which will likely provide the first EV-driving experience for most consumers.
What to expect: Available in the U.S. for $32,780 plus a $2,200 garage charger installation (now eligible for a $1,000 federal tax credit), the car will likely take longer to catch on as it does not have any kind of gas-powered backup (like the Chevy Volt), so sales will probably stay pretty even keeled until customers are more confident in EV infrastructure and the vehicles’ range vapacity. But customers who have test driven this car have noted that it isn’t just the speedy acceleration, smooth handling, or cool sounds (which have been described as a spaceship sound, and when the car backs up it pings!) that they’re amazed with, but it’s Internet and smartphone features. The car can email drivers when the battery is low, and if you get into the car while your iPhone is playing Pandora or a podcast, the car instantly syncs up with your device and starts playing the song that you’re listening to. These features will be the car’s main selling point, in my opinion.
This plug-in hybrid isn’t an all-electric vehicle, but rather seems to represent another baby-step in the transition from gas-powered vehicles to all-electric (for those who just can’t do it cold turkey). Where the hybrids of the last decade conserved energy by switching to battery power when the car drove under a certain speed limit or idled, the Volt runs primarily on battery power and switches to good ole’ gas when the battery is depleted. This offers a nice little backup plan for drivers like me who could write a book on all of the worst places to run out of gas.
Another alluring feature is the fact that the Volt doesn’t require its own charging station. The car can charge right from your own garage outlet using an SAE J1772-compliant charging cord and a $490 home charging unit (which is a lot less painful than the Leaf’s $2,200 garage charging station). The EPA determined that the car’s electric range averages 35 miles, and the total range for both gas and electric averages 379 miles. The fuel economy for gas and electric combined is 60 MPG.
The Chevy Volt is among the 25,000 electric vehicles that GE will be purchasing for its fleet and fleet customers between 2011 and 2015. Half of GE’s 30,000 global fleet will be converted to electric and it will make an initial purchase of 12,000 GM vehicles in 2011, beginning with the Chevy Volt.
What to expect: GM claims that the home charging unit can fully recharge the battery in about four hours, which isn’t bad, but some people will inevitably forget to charge the car the night before, especially in the first few months of ownership, so the fact that the Volt can switch over to gas if necessary is a very attractive feature. And, quite frankly, until the infrastructure is fully established and charging stations are as ubiquitous as gas stations (I believe there are exactly three EV charging stations in all of Manhattan), the gas-powered backup will ease range anxiety until charging networks are more established. Of course, at $40,280, that makes the Volt a pretty pricey baby-step to an all-electric future.
The Coda Sedan comes with an interesting back story. To avoid the costs normally incurred by building an electric vehicle ex nihilo, Coda Automotive re-engineered the gas-powered Hafei Saibao, which was designed by Pininfarina and is licensed to Mitsubishi. The company chose the name “coda,” which means the concluding part of a musical score or a work of literature, to represent the end of the era of gas-powered vehicles.
The Coda Sedan can charge from any 110v-220v outlet. A drained battery can fully recharge from a 220v outlet in less than six hours, and the company claims that the vehicle’s range is between 90 and 120 miles. The company is pushing the car as an ideal vehicle for taking care of your day-to-day needs around your hometown, which suggests that it’s going after the upper middle-class suburban consumer who can afford to own more than one (or more than two, really) cars.
Coda recently sealed a deal with Enterprise Rent-a-Car to bring up to 100 all-electric Coda Sedans to Enterprise’s rental locations throughout 2011. Coda plans to sell 14,000 vehicles by the end of 2011, with nearly half of those vehicles coming from fleet sales.
What to expect: with a $45,000 price tag—approximately $12,000 more than the Leaf—the Coda Sedan has some ‘splainin’ to do. The price-tag alone will make the Coda less likely to do as well as the Leaf, which, even with the $2,200 charging station, is $10,000 less than the Coda.
Ford Focus Electric
Ford posted its first teaser pics of the new EV Focus Tuesday on Facebook, just ahead of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas January 6-9. In an interesting move, Ford opted to ditch the Detroit Auto Show in favor of debuting the EV Focus at the CES show, which suggests that the car is more of an electronic device than it is an “automobile.” This coincides neatly with Ford’s Sync system, an in-car connectivity system that allows drivers to make hands-free calls, control music, receive audio text messages, and get vehicle diagnostics and maintenance stats all with voice-activated commands.
Slated to begin rolling out in summer 2011 in just 14 states, not much is known about the vehicle yet except for the fact that it will get a range of approximately 100 miles on a lithium-ion battery pack supplied by LG Chem (the same company that supplied the Volt). The company expects to expand to more states throughout the U.S. in 2012.
The car will not be a plug-in hybrid, but an all-electric vehicle that will be capable of fully charging in six hours when plugged into a 220v outlet. Early reviews from test drives from the likes of Michigan’s governor Jennifer Granholm and others have praised the vehicle for its quick acceleration, smooth handling, and easy braking.
What to expect: if the Ford Sync system is anything to go by, the EV Focus, along with the Leaf, will pave the way for Internet and smartphone connected cars, which will be a big selling point. The car’s price has not yet been disclosed, but as it aims to be the first electric car designed for the generic aisle of the dealership, the price will likely be competitive with the Leaf and Volt.
In sum, it looks like fleet vehicles will act as the electric vehicle gateway in 2011.