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An Electric Vehicle for You?

Max Baumhefner

Posted January 23, 2012

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2012 will see the introduction of a myriad of plug-in electric vehicles: sports cars, an SUV, compacts, hatchbacks, sub-compacts, and sedans.  Over the next several years, up to 40 plug-in models will be introduced.  Later this week, the California Air Resources Board will vote on improvements to strengthen the state’s Zero Emission Vehicle program that will provide automakers with the long-term certainty necessary to ensure this proliferation of vehicle choice continues.  Soon, there will be a zero emission vehicle to fit every lifestyle, budget, need, and desire.

Americans have already bought 17,000 Nissan Leafs and Chevy Volts.  Not bad for the first year.  When Toyota and Honda first introduced hybrid technology in the United States in the form of the now ubiquitous Prius and Insight, their combined first year sales were 9,350.  In truth, the Leaf and Volt represent the first widely available forms of two types of plug-in technology.  The Leaf is a full battery electric vehicle with a range of between 60 and 100 miles, well in excess of the average American’s daily driving needs.  The Volt is a plug-in hybrid that goes 40 miles in all electric mode, before becoming an efficient gasoline hybrid you can drive as far as you’d like.  2012 will see the introduction of many more full battery electrics and plug-in hybrids. Here are a few, broken down by vehicle type:


  • Tesla Model S: a full battery electric sedan that promises to seat five adults plus two kids, fit a surfboard inside, go up to 300 miles on a charge, and accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in 4.4 seconds (performance model). 


  • Fisker Karma a plug-in hybrid with dual electric motors that send 403 horses and 959 lb-ft of torque to its 22 inch wheels.


  • BMW Active E: a full battery electric version of the BMW one series sports sedan.


Hatchbacks & Sedans

  • Prius Plug-in: a plug-in version of Toyota’s iconic Prius that forgoes a large battery to save on cost and weight, but with enough all-electric range for average trips, and gas-sipping efficiency for longer distances.


  • Coda: a ground-up, full battery electric midsize sedan with a 150 mile range and a body by Pininfarina.


  • Ford Focus Electric: a full battery electric version of the sporty Focus hatchback that will compete with the Leaf.


  • Ford Fusion Energi: a plug-in hybrid midsize sedan that Ford hopes will be the most efficient on the market with a predicted 100 miles-per-gallon equivalent



  • Honda Fit EV: a full battery electric version of the versatile car that has been on Car and Driver’s Ten Best Cars list for the last six years running.


  • Mitsubishi i: a full battery electric that boasts of the lowest sticker price of any currently available plug-in and the best EPA fuel economy rating of any car at 112 miles-per-gallon-equivalent.


SUVs & Minivans

  • Toyota RAV4: a larger, more advanced re-incarnation of the all-electric SUV which enthusiasts have been driving since the 1990s.


  • Ford C-Max Energi: a plug-in hybrid that is technically a minivan because of its sliding doors and third row of seats, but with visual lines that will not be confused with the Dodge Caravan’s of yesteryear.


As my colleague Simon Mui explains, if the California Air Resources Board keeps the Zero Emission Vehicle program strong, one in six cars in showrooms in 2025 will have the ability to drive emission and oil free.  Clear direction from state officials provides automakers the certainty needed to make long-term investments in the next generation of zero emission technologies.  With increased investment, comes increased consumer choice.  If one of the plug-in vehicles featured above doesn’t fit your needs, you won’t have to wait long for one that does.

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Ev PalJan 23 2012 08:38 PM

There is a lack of clarity on the Electric Rav4: price, range, availability.
Anyone has info to share......

EvJan 23 2012 08:40 PM

Because of pricing, I believe the EV Mini sector will get more traction in the short term.

Maggie BeeJan 24 2012 01:58 PM

Thanks for this clarity and encouragement. Ability to compare photos and stats helpful. Am sharing with friends who are either confused or clueless.

ScottJan 24 2012 03:14 PM

Thanks Max. It would also be interesting to get your thoughts on if/how progress in EV markets can be made in tandem with development of transit-oriented communities and an overall stabilization or reduction in VMT.

Max BaumhefnerJan 24 2012 04:30 PM

NRDC's works on all three key elements of the transportation energy system: vehicles, fuels, and miles traveled. Climate science dictates that we succeed on all three fronts. My colleagues Kaid Benfeild, Deron Lovass, Justin Horner, and Amanda Eaken work on the precise issues you describe, development of transit-oriented communities and reducing vehicle miles traveled (look for their blogs on Switchboard). Many car sharing programs are beginning to make use of EVs, integrating all three aspects of equation: more efficient vehicles, cleaner fuels, and reduced car ownership and miles traveled. Here's a cool example of one that offers EVs without the constraints of pre-determined pick up and drop off points:

David WallerichJan 24 2012 09:36 PM

It's great to see some variety and selection coming to the market. Choice is always good. Let's hope the infrastructure can keep up with demand for electricity.

Time to get into the EV charging station install business, or the battery recycling business.

Doug KarpaJan 25 2012 07:40 PM

I'll have to peruse Switchboard it seems. To take up that question about how transit oriented development can play into the EV market, at least in California some of the answer turns on how TOD is incentivized for developers. In several cases, supporting EVs through charging stations (and often onsite renewable generation) is a strategy for dealing with GHG impacts and possibly to get streamlined review under CEQA. Certainly, on a regional level, there'd be scope to include an EV demand strategy as part of sustainable community planning processes like the SB 375. Other incentives and regulatory moves such as grants can also support EV infrastructure.

One interesting thing I'm seeing is a market driven move on the part of developers trying to attract the young, affluent urban demographic. From a purely marketing perspective, developers are showing signs to supporting EVs through charging stations (including EV car shares) in order to increase velocity and sometimes price of the TODs as well, quite independent of other regulatory moves. The thought in part is that TOD residents may well like the Zipcar model of access to cars, and may really like an EV version of this. Some clever automaker is going to come up with an electric pickup for those trips to IKEA.

But, you might throw in some stats on the volt and Leaf for comparison. After all, I'm planning on using your blog for a car shopping guide.

DustinJan 27 2012 01:07 AM

Wow that Mitsubishi i is fugly!

SriniFeb 2 2012 12:00 AM

I have a Nissan Leaf and its surprising that even in the capital Sacramento where I live there are very few public chargers. Most of the chargers that do exist are not compliant with the new charging ports that all the new electric cars have.

The other problem is that the US government gave over 100 million in grant to a company called Ecototality and they have installed 11 public chargers so far in the state and just under 100 around the whole USA. This company just puts out press releases which mean nothing and looks like they have not accountability for the money they took from the Taxpayers.

These kind of failures to develop the charging infrastructure will lead to the death of the Electric car. The other astonishing fact is that there is not a single functioning fast charger (440V) in the entire state of California.

These fast chargers are a must if people want to use their cars to travel longer distances for example from Sacramento to San Francisco. The current meager chargers that exist are 240V which means you have to wait for hours to get your car charged (6 hours for a 100 mile range on the Leaf). The fast chargers will charge your car to 80 percent in 10 minutes.

Seeing how the state wastes its money I would not hold my breath for these fast chargers.

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