OK, the electric vehicle class of 2011 is almost upon us, and now is the time to vote on Most Likely to Succeed. Which green cars are going to float peoples’ boats? Which ones are they actually going to buy?
I’m in the privileged position of enjoying virtually all the cars in regular test drives, and probably won’t buy one immediately. But for many, the moment of truth is arriving around now. You’ve decided to buy an electric or plug-in hybrid, but can’t make up your mind about which one. Here is a highly subjective list, representing the plug-ins that I think are going to make it in the marketplace. Online stuff stays up forever, so if I’m wrong, this list will be around to embarrass me virtually forever. This in no particular order, though it may seem like it is:
Chevrolet Volt: This car does just about everything well, and it has been the subject of more online speculation than Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction. It offers up to 50 miles of all-electric driving, and then another 250 miles with the (very quiet) gas motor running. It does all that in a very sleek package, featuring a state-of-the-art dash display and advanced connectivity. And this from the company that was churning out Chevettes not too long ago. If there’s a catch here, it’s the $41,000 price, but the pain will be eased with a $7,500 federal income tax credit and extra subsidies in many states. Everybody — from President Obama to the governors in launch states and your local Chevy dealer — wants you in a Volt and will bend over backwards to make it happen.
The considerable reputation of Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn rests on the performance of this little battery car, which is why you see ads for it every time you turn on the TV. If you judge electric vehicles by range, the Leaf doesn’t have a big advantage over the competition — they all go about 100 miles on a charge — but there’s a major market sophistication to the Leaf that everyone else will have to imitate. The $32,790 Leaf has a leg up, thanks to a big dealer network, massive early publicity, subsidies for chargers in many launch markets, and an undefinable “oh wow” factor. My friend Paul Scott, vice president of Plug-In America, is so excited about the Leaf he took a day job selling them
in California, and told me he has already moved 30. That bodes well. Production is sold out for 2010, so you’ll have to get on the 2011 waiting list.
These folks are somewhat maddening to deal with, since no amount of cajoling will get me behind the wheel of one of these luxury/performance plug-in hybrid sedans this year. (It’s scheduled to hit the market in March.) The Karma is somewhat compromised by weight
(more than 5,000 pounds) but drivetrain supplier Quantum assures me that it meets all the performance specs, which includes a zero to 60 time of 5.9 seconds in sport mode and 125 mph top speed. Like the Volt (which it resembles in overall layout), the Karma offers 50 miles in battery mode, then a conventional car’s cruising range (300 miles) with the engine running. Price is again an issue, since it costs $87,900 before rebates. But they say the early production is sold out, and there’s extraordinary interest. Let’s hope it’s a hit — I don’t want to write “Bad Karma” headlines.
AMP Electric Equinox:
Here’s a company that nobody’s ever heard of, converting Chevy Equinoxes to battery operation (and getting them to go 120 miles on a charge). You could fit their total production (which includes Saturn Sky/Pontiac Solstice roadsters) in a small parking lot, so why are they going to make it? Cincinnati-based AMP Electric Vehicles just announced a 1,000-SUV order over five years
from Iceland’s Northern Lights Energy (Full disclosure: I introduced the two parties, but didn’t take any money from them), it’s converting a trio of Saturn Vues for Detroit’s DTE Energy, and it has a good shot at getting into a number of corporate and government fleets. Plus, I drove a white one at the Los Angeles Auto Show (and earlier for the New York Times in New York) and I like the way it performs. The AMP Equinox is fast, rattle-free and solid — I wasn’t afraid to push it hard. Drawback, again, is price: $25,000 for the conversion, and another 25 large for the donor car. On the plus side, you can order one right now.
The other players: There’s a big group of electric vehicles coming from major manufacturers (not necessarily in 2011) that have a really decent chance of finding fans. For the most part, they’re based on production cars that have already succeeded in the marketplace. These include the BMW ActiveE (based on the 1-Series Coupe), the Toyota RAV4 (with help from Telsa), the VW Golf and Jetta, the Ford Focus EV, the Smart electric drive, the Fiat 500 electric, and more. I don’t see any standout hits there (maybe the Ford, pictured), but all should have respectable showings.
Sorry if I missed anybody, but it’s a big and very unpredictable market.
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