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USA: Electric car makers looking to seize opportunity

To drivers, the high price of gasoline is a scourge. To the electric car industry, it could be a game-changer.

Nissan’s electric Leaf and the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid both hit dealer showrooms in late 2010, riding a wave of carefully cultivated hype. But first-year sales were lackluster at best, as consumers balked at the high sticker prices and unfamiliar engineering.

This year’s gas-price spike could change that.

Technology that looked like a gamble to many car buyers last year might look more like an insurance policy now.

“Every time it goes up, my phone rings a little more,” said Ron Coury, with the Northbay Nissan dealership in Petaluma. “It’s the ones who’ve been sitting back and watching, and now they’re sticking their feet in the water.”

Nissan and General Motors, which makes the Volt, have a chance to reset their marketing campaigns. Other companies introducing electric cars this year – including Ford, Mitsubishi, Coda Automotive and Tesla Motors – could benefit from the timing in a way that GM and Nissan couldn’t in 2010.

“It gives us the opportunity to convert people, but it’s an opportunity we have to seize,” said Brendan Jones, director of electric vehicle marketing for Nissan North America.

General Motors has launched a new ad campaign that explains how the Volt works and emphasizes the car’s ability to evade the gas station. The Volt operates as an electric car for the first 25 to 50 miles of a trip, before a gasoline motor kicks in. Like the all-electric Leaf, the Volt recharges its batteries via a specialized power plug, with most owners recharging at night.


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