They asked, "Who Killed the Electric Car?"
The answer could be: nobody.
Sales numbers on electric vehicles were up in 2012, but lower than automakers' projections. But the goings-on at the recent auto show suggest some hot trends on the electric front. Could this Tesla Model S (and its siblings) be a game-changer? Will electric-powered vehicles be the new thing or just another Edsel? We take a look at the landscape.
The reviews on U.S. sales numbers for plug-in electric vehicles for 2012 were mixed. The total numbers soared to their highest levels ever, but still fell short of manufacturers' projections for the year. The lower-than-expected market penetration appears to be causing some manufacturers to pull back on the all-electric option in favor of plug-in hybrids. But the two big players in the electric vehicle market -- Nissan and General Motors -- appear to be doubling down on their bets.
It looks like the saga of the electric vehicle, which began way back in the 1830s, has a way to go. Let's take a look at what might be ahead.
The Road Ahead for Hybrids and Electric Vehicles?
On January 14, the winners of the North American Car of the Year and Truck/Utility of the Year were announced at the just-finished Detroit Auto Show: the 2013 Cadillac ATS and Chrysler's 2013 Ram 1500, respectively. Both are gas-powered. But it hasn't been all gas, and certainly not gas guzzlers, at the show.
The new CAFE standards (short for Corporate Average Fuel Economy) were developed in consultation with Detroit, and it seems that the companies are in a competition to see who can get there the fastest.
And on the electric vehicle front, one of the three truck/utility finalists for Best Truck/Utility of the Year -- the Ford C-Max-- is a gasoline-electric hybrid.
And then there were these little electric newcomers on display:
- VIA Motors XTRUX 800 horsepower electric truck,
- a less expensive Nissan Leaf,
- Volkswagen's CrossBlue, a plug-in hybrid SUV prototype that uses a diesel engine and two electric motors,
- Nissan's Resonance concept, a "dramatically styled hybrid crossover"
- Acura's NSX hybrid supercar,
- Cadillac ELR, electric plug-in car concept (modeled on the Chevy Volt), expected to hit the market in 2014 and
- Tesla Motors' new all-electric Model X crossover.
(See an alternative look at the show’s “must see” electric vehicles here.)
Of all the electric vehicles around, the Tesla Model S (which I briefly go over in this video on electric vehicles) really stands out for combining electrically endowed freedom from gasoline with luxury and performance. In fact both Motor Trend and Automobile magazines awarded it the 2013 automobile of the year award.
Angus MacKenzie wrote in MotorTrend: "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."
In Automobile magazine David Zenlea describes the car -- and Tesla's whole reason for existing -- like this:
"Tesla’s raison d’etre ... is, in Musk’s words, 'To accelerate the advent of electric cars.' That’s another credit to the Model S’s overall execution and seductive powers. 'The electric motor does not define this car,' says [road test editor Christopher] Nelson. But it is, at the end of the day, what makes this very good sport sedan an absolute game changer. The Model S’s range, rated by the EPA at 265 miles with the largest battery, finally fits the American conception of driving. Want to take the family from Washington, D.C., to New York? No problem. Stop for an hour at one of Tesla’s Supercharger stations being installed throughout the country, and you can travel on to Boston.”
Some analysts might be skeptical, but electric and plug-in hybrid cars could be what most of us will be driving in five years or so. Markets can change quickly and I imagine that automobile makers around the world are sitting in their boardrooms having to decide whether to get on or off the electric car bandwagon. As the fans of the marketplace are wont to say: there will likely be winners and losers.
And we consumers have some deciding to do as well. Be careful you don't end up picking and driving the equivalent of today's car with fins -- or a hand crank.