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Watts up: A stampede of new electric cars

You can count the number of electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid models being sold to consumers today on two hands–and have several fingers left over.

But that’s about to change. Competitors are lining up to take on the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Roadster, Chevrolet Volt and other pioneering vehicles.

Most major automakers will bring out at least one battery-powered EV or plug-in hybrid in the next three years. A few start-ups also plan retail sales.

That probably won’t translate to big sales during this decade. Paul Haelterman, managing director of automotive consulting at IHS Global Insight, says plug-ins and EVs will account for just 1 to 2 percent of North American sales through 2015.

“For the next five years, they’re niche vehicles, pure and simple,” he says.

The main reason: For the average driver, the payback period for the added cost of such vehicles will be about 15 years, Haelterman says. Also, the recharging infrastructure is lacking.

But, he adds, rising petroleum prices and the declining cost of EV technology should make the vehicles less pricey by 2020. Add tougher fuel economy and emissions rules, and automakers have little choice. They have to get in the electrified-propulsion game, if only to be prepared in case consumer tastes shift quickly.

Here’s an overview of coming EVs and plug-ins, based on what the companies and industry sources are saying.

Aptera 2e
Aptera 2e


This Oceanside, Calif., startup seeks a federal loan to start production of the 2e, a three-wheel EV. Aptera wants to follow that with more mainstream vehicles. Timing is uncertain.


Audi plans a range of high-priced electric cars starting with the limited-edition battery-powered e-tron version of the R8 in 2012. A plug-in hybrid is scheduled to follow in 2014. Audi will test electric variants of the A1 minicar this summer in Germany.


BMW’s Megacity vehicle project is scheduled to produce an electric city car in 2013. To cut weight, BMW will make extensive use of carbon fiber and aluminum.

The first stage of the project was the Mini E test fleet. BMW moves into stage two this year with a U.S. test fleet of the BMW ActiveE, an EV based on the 1-series subcompact. BMW unveiled the ActiveE at the Geneva auto show.


Chinese automaker BYD Co., which had planned to launch U.S. retail sales of the e6 electric crossover in 2011, pushed back the scheduled U.S. launch of its EV and F3DM plug-in hybrid to spring 2012. BYD has leased 10 F3DMs to the city of Los Angeles. It also plans to lease the e6 to governmental fleets.

Coda sedan
Coda sedan


Coda Automotive, a Santa Monica, Calif., startup, plans to launch its battery-powered sedan in the second half of this year, delayed from last December.


EnVision Motor Co. of Ames, Iowa, has begun assembling EVs. It installs electric powertrains and other equipment in partially assembled vehicles bought from Renault/Dacia. EnVision plans to sell a seven-passenger wagon, pickup and cargo van.


The Fiat 500 EV, an electric version of the Fiat 500, is scheduled to arrive in the United States next year.

Fisker Karma
Fisker Karma


The Karma plug-in hybrid luxury sedan is scheduled for a March launch at the Valmet plant in Finland. The Karma is the first of six models Fisker plans through 2016. The others:

— Karma convertible, based on the Sunset prototype shown in 2009

— Second Karma-based derivative

— Small sedan to be built in Delaware starting in 2012; now known as the Nina, but the name could change

— Possible coupe and crossover, based on the Nina sedan; Fisker executives have not confirmed these, but in announcing the company’s acquisition of General Motors’ Wilmington, Del., plant in 2009, Vice President Joe Biden mentioned them.


Ford Motor Co. expects to deliver the first electric Focus compact car in the United States late this year. An electric version of the Transit Connect van is in production. Other planned EVs include a plug-in hybrid version of the C-Max small minivan for the 2013 model year.


CEO Dan Akerson has said he wants “several different variants” of plug-in hybrid Volt-technology vehicles in the next few years. In January, Akerson said a plug-in hybrid multipurpose vehicle is in the works, likely by the 2013 model year. Also planned: a plug-in hybrid version of the Cadillac SRX crossover by 2013.

This year GM’s German subsidiary, Opel, launched the Ampera plug-in using Volt technology. Opel will show an EV minicar at the Geneva show.

Last fall GM began testing a fleet of electric-powered Chevrolet Cruzes in South Korea, but there’s no word on production plans. Also, GM has continued fuel cell EV research; limited retail sales in California in 2015 would not be a surprise.


1 comment to Watts up: A stampede of new electric cars

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