The electrics are coming! By the end of the year, at least six battery-powered vehicles will be on the U.S. market. The cars will finally go from revolving on show stands to dealer floors, and we’ll finally know if consumers mean it when they say in opinion polls that they’ll consider an EV for their next purchase. Most of these cars will charge in five or six hours on 220-volt home current, and overnight on 110. Fifteen -minute fast charging (480 volts) may be available at some public stations even at your favorite big-box store.
Here’s a rundown of the cars headed for showrooms, some from major manufacturers and others from ambitious startups. Four are battery-only cars, one is a plug-in hybrid and the sixth (the Chevrolet Volt) is a unique combination of the two: “This is the new paradigm of the car, and it will change our industry,” said Carlos Ghosn, the chairman of Nissan, introducing the battery-powered Leaf in Los Angeles. “It will also change the way people use and power their vehicles.”
The Leaf, an all-new design, has a range of 100 miles on a single charge of its lithium-ion batteries. Nissan is unique among carmakers in also partnering with charging companies and municipalities to make sure the Leaf will have public places to plug in. Even though the car hasn’t been priced yet (it could be $23,000, plus batteries), 25,000 “hand raisers” have said they’re willing to buy one. I drove a “mule” version of the Leaf, and found it great fun – the electric motor gives it great performance right off the line. Leaf will be available at the end of the year at a Nissan dealership near you.
The Volt is not only a huge departure for usually conservative General Motors; it’s also a giant leap for cars in general. The all-new Volt sedan is unique: Its Li-ion battery pack offers go-power for 40 miles of electric range, but then a small gasoline engine kicks in as a generator to supply electricity to the motor. That sets you up for longer trips, because the gas engine will keep the car going for a total of 400 miles.
The Volt will sell for around $40,000, but a federal tax incentive will reduce that to the low $30s. I drove a pre-production Volt and this is not grandpa’s Chevy: Like the Leaf, the Volt is loads of fun to drive and explodes off the line. The first Volts will arrive at the end of the year, as 2011 models.
Ford has a multi-channel approach to EVs (electric vehicles). This year it will roll out an electric version of the Transit Connect van, and for 2011 we’ll see a limited-production, battery-powered version of the new Focus, with the drive train engineered by Canada’s Magna International. As with many other EVs, it will have a 100-mile range on lithium-ion batteries. Ford is being conservative with the electric Focus, and will probably make less than 5,000 annually in the first year or two.
For 2012, the carmaker will roll out a plug-in hybrid, possibly based on the Escape. There is a small fleet of electric Focus cars being tested now, and two of them are in the hands of Jay Leno, who’s been using them on his test track for the “Green Car Challenge.” I tried one out there, but Drew Barrymore had a faster time than I did.
Coda is based in California, but its electric car is an international citizen, based on a Chinese design but with a battery-based drive train sourced from all over. The Coda, many of whose creators have Goldman Sachs connections, stands out because of the unusual attention to detail that went into it. To ensure a battery supply, CEO Kevin Czinger formed a joint venture with a Chinese company. His packs are unlikely to suffer from cold-weather performance problems (as some of BMW’s Mini Es have) because the Coda has a system to both heat and cool them.
The Coda isn’t as snazzy looking as the Volt or the Leaf, but it’s equally willing on the road — as a recent dash around the leafy lanes of Greenwich, Connecticut proved. The Coda will be available, initially in California only, later this year. The price is around $40,000, but that goes down to $32,500 with the federal tax benefit.
This is the glamour boy of the coming EVs, and it’s a plug-in hybrid. What’s that, you say? Think of a Toyota Prius, but with a larger battery pack and the ability to recharge from a wall socket. Other plug-in hybrids are coming from Ford and Toyota. The Karma is as sexy as the Tesla Roadster, but with four doors and a gas engine for longer trips. Journalists haven’t actually driven the Karma yet, but it’s supposed to have 50 miles of all-electric range and a zero to 60 times of 5.8 seconds.
As with the Tesla, you pay for that rip-roaring ability: The Karma (which has a more expensive convertible version) will sell for $87,900 when it reaches showrooms in September. Fisker got a controversial $529 million Department of Energy loan to build its next-generation car, the Nina, and recently announced that it is consolidating all of its operations in California (and closing down in Pontiac, Michigan).
This cute little bugger has an interesting history. The company is Norwegian, and for a few years (1999 to 2003) it was owned by Ford, which did a lot of engineering work on the car but conspicuously failed to sell very many of them. Now Think is preparing to build its two-seat City, with U.S. battery supplier Ener1 as a partner, in hard-hit Elkhart, Indiana.
The car I drove in Detroit, built in Norway, was quick off the line but a bit noisy and with heavy steering — both things will be fixed before it hits the American market for less than $20,000 (minus batteries and including the federal tax credit) later this year.
Provided by The Daily Green