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2012 Renault Fluence Z.E.

Electric vehicles (EVs) are about to arrive in big numbers in the streets of America and, if you haven't already, you will soon experience your first sighting. Maybe not next month and maybe not this summer, but rest assured, sometime in the next 18 months it is very likely you will spot your first Chevy Volt or Nissan Leaf (or Brammo Enertia or Navistar Modec or ...). Then it will happen again. And again. As oil becomes more expensive and batteries and other EV tech becomes better and cheaper, electric motoring will become an integral part of the mobility landscape.

With the re-introduction of this alternative drivetrain (a lot of EVs existed in the early 20th Century) many new companies, as well as the traditional manufacturers, will be fighting it out for a piece of this growing pie. While it's impossible to accurately predict the eventual size of the pastry or who will seize which slice, the near-term situation is becoming increasingly clear. If you're wondering how your early-adopter neighbor (or yourself) might be rollin' in the next year or two, skip with us past the break and take a look at what's coming up.

Nissan

2010 Nissan Leaf

Nissan has been tinkering with lithium-powered electrics since 1998 when they came out with the ill-fated Altra. Since then, the company's EVs have been limited to some "interesting" concepts but a few years ago it started becoming increasingly clear that they were going to get serious about bringing an actual vehicle to market. Real serious. In fact, you could make the case that the head of the Nissan/Renault Alliance, Carlos Ghosn, is risking the financial future of that automotive giant on battery-powered cars with as many as eight different models planned. The Nissan Leaf (pictured above) will be the first of those to make it to America and the company is sparing no effort to make this new product launch the kind of success that should see the automaker get the largest piece of EV market share for some time to come. With aggressive pricing announced and over 56,000 people expressing interest at the Leaf website before anyone has even test-driven the actual car, we expect Nissan's goal of 20,000 reservations by the time they start shipping in December to be easily achievable. These early sales and (hopefully) positive consumer experiences should help pave the way for the automaker's follow-up models bolster the brand's market dominance.




General Motors

2011 Chevrolet Volt

Another high-profile entry into the EV market is the Chevy Volt. While not an "all-electric" – the car is an extended-range EV (eREV, aka plug-in hybrid) and the Volt's gas engine will come on after the initial 40 miles in electric mode are traveled – the vast majority of miles driven in these cars will be electron-powered and so it will have an impact in the EV space. How much of an impact depends on its pricing to some extent but, initially, its availability might be a bigger factor. The vehicle has attracted a lot of attention and finding buyers for the initial 10,000 units expected to be manufactured in the first year shouldn't prove too difficult. Again, if the consumer experience is a positive one, the evangelistic tendencies of happy owners could leave GM wishing they had planned for higher volumes. Another limiting factor for the General is the seeming lack of further models under development that make use of the Voltec drivetrain. While we do expect to eventually see some, their sluggishness leaves the door open for others reduce the General's potential market share.


  • 11/29/09 7:17:39 -- Los Angeles, CA, U.S.A Vehicle Chief Engineer Andrew Farah and the new Chevy Volt during the Dodger Stadium ride and drive.



Ford

2011 Ford Focus

Ford is another major manufacturer with major American EV plans. Taking a slightly different tack, its planned Ford Focus EV due out in 2011 will forego an "EV-distinctive model" and leverage an existing gas-powered platform. While this strategy may help the bottom line, it's not clear how well it will attract the early adopter. With performance and range not so different from that of the Leaf, it may have to rely upon competitive pricing to achieve decent sales numbers. Luckily for Ford, the brand is currently rather strong and consumer confidence should offer some assistance.

Ford Transit Connect Electric

It also won't hurt Focus sales if the Transit Connect Electric, due to roll off the lines by the end of this year, boosts their EV bona fides. In fact, this vehicle could be a real winner for the company in the urban commercial vehicle space. Ford really has an advantage being the first to fill this niche and would do well to capitalize on that as Mitsubishi may have somewhat similar product in the pipeline and Nissan certainly does.


Mitsubishi

Mitsubishi Global i MiEV prototype

Mitsubishi may the company with the most puzzling product plan of all. Since creating the i-MiEV back in 2006 and parading them about the planet seemingly ever since, we've waited for news that it would be made available for sale in the U.S. Finally, last year, Mitsubishi unveiled a "global" version and said it would bring the car here. More recently that has changed to there will be an EV here, but maybe not the i-MiEV. We won't even mention the crazy prices that have been associated with the little jellybean in the territories were it is being put on sale. In its defense, the company was hit hard by the recent economic downturn but it's still a shame Mitsubishi hasn't made the decisive moves that could have seen it benefit from being first to market. If it does bring the i-MiEV to America next year, it will definitely need to adjust pricing (yes, $22,000 sounds good) if it wants to get any traction against the very desirable Leaf.

Other, Smaller Players

Tesla Motors Model S

Besides the major manufacturers already mentioned, there are also some smaller companies with product becoming available in the near to medium term. The best known is, of course, Tesla Motors, which already has the Roadster available for anyone with $100,000+ to spend on a set of (very sweet) wheels. Tesla Model S, a very sexy performance sedan, may only be available in two years from now, but when it does arrive it may find itself owning that particular niche. That is, if Tesla can maintain its stellar rep for customer service and quality hardware. The superior range capabilities and superb styling won't hurt either.

For companies that have yet to put their first product out there – like Coda Automotive, BYD, Fisker Automotive, Th!nk, Aptera Wheego and others – large question marks about their futures remain. If they are to survive and maybe even thrive, they will need to demonstrate quality, value, performance and innovation (not necessarily in that order). The market will only get tougher and more crowded as the traditional automakers begin moving into the space that defines the electric vehicle market.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 56 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      Main players:

      Nissan/Renault- in house developed batteries, controllers, motors. EV-specific platforms. Sells at a lower total cost of ownership than a comparable ICE car- and Nissan makes a profit at that price point. Range of vehicles. More EV production capacity than all other manufacturers combined. Already has next gen batteries in testing with twice the energy density at a lower price for a planned 2014 intro.

      Mitsubishi- MiEV is already on the road. Lowered cost (albeit for not much of a car). Building new battery plant. Company isn't doing too well, so they can't afford too much of an investment.

      Ford- outsources everything to third party suppliers to retrofit existing platforms. Eventually seek to assemble the vehicle and assemble the battery pack (out of outsourced cells)... But they plan that for the timeframe that Nissan is planning gen 2 EV's already out.

      GM- the Volt really isn't an EV. Basically a Daewoo Lacetti Premiere/Cruze hatchback plug-in hybrid trying to integrate and ICE drivetrain, outsourced motors, LG batteries, etc. Compromised packaging with large car weight, compact exterior and subcompact interior. GM plans to lose money on it for the "forseeable future," so if it doesn't work as a halo vehicle... However, the technology may have an impact on their other gasoline vehicles.

      Tesla- decent concept vehicle but too expensive to be more than a specialty brand. Company has had finance issues in the past, so we may see some delays....


      As for the others, if the big automakers don't step up, you may see some new major players, probably out of China (BYD?)
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree with almost everything that you've just said, except that Tesla isn't really a concept. They have cars on the road. Concepts typically turn to vaporware and disappear throughout time. As of right now, you might be able to classify the model S as a concept, but you'd have to be pretty far in the dark to do so. The company is riding on that car. Its the only way for them to become truly profitable and actually become a player. The roadster, as has been proven, can only take them so far. You can pretty much count on the model S hitting production lines and selling.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, I bet their third vehicle is absolutely ridiculous because of that too. I can't wait to see what they have up their sleeves.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah, I guess Tesla should be up higher on the list. In terms of specialty manufacturers, they are the best game in town... (even though the Roadster is basically a Lotus integrating outsourced battery cells and outsourced motors)

        However, I have a feeling the Model S concept will have some changes from now till production, and may have some trouble meeting their cost targets. Even though it is significantly more expensive than the LEAF, making cars in relatively small numbers is tough to do at a profit- I can't think of a specialty manufacture that makes a comparable ICE car (without being heavily based on another vehicle) near that price range. And I greatly doubt things like the rear-facing seats (to claim 7 passengers) with the passengers heads staring at glass a few inches away will pass safety standards.

        However, my opinion of them may change if they get a 3rd vehicle (Nicola Tesla was an obsessive/compulsive who, in addition to being one of the greatest minds in history, only did things in multiples of 3)
      harlanx6
      • 5 Years Ago
      For Dan, although I have some disagreement with you on basic economic issues I do respect your opinion (even when you come off like a condescending pompous ass), and I think you are right on this one. The process up to now has evolutionary, but it could become quickly revolutionary depending on economic condition, technical advancements and the likely fight for market share. It's possible there could be a cascade effect. Your "something like a fiber glass Kia Ray with short range battery drive and a 2 cylinder ultra lean range extender. " is right on.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Nicely done. I knew all of this already (I follow ABG religiously), but every once in a while you need to step back and do a state of the nation review. Well done.
      • 5 Years Ago
      We can say "relatively expensive" - Tesla Roadster with its $100k price tag isn't exactly expensive for a car doing 60mph in sub 4s. Nissan Leaf can be considered a fair deal for someone commuting a lot in a city. It'll take time to EVs fully displace ICEs. Just ramping production has to take time. The fact that withing a year I'll be able spot a EV on road is staggering. It's just beginning after all, and very significant paradigm shift too.

      Now look what may happen in 7-10 years perspective, when tech like air-lithium get production ready? Roadstar's 53kWh pack may be looking puny then. :-)
      • 5 Years Ago
      telsa among the affluent crowd, proving that high-performance, pure electric, and luxury are possible in a single package. for a price.

      nissan among the masses, proving a pure electric, but otherwise perfectly normal, family car can be priced like a normal family car.
        • 5 Years Ago
        It will get interesting when Tesla and Fisker release their "mainstream" EVs (the Model T and the Nina).
      • 4 Years Ago
      Or a Vectrix electric scooter. I have one and I love it. Some may say they are out of business but they were bought at the end of 2009 and they are making a come back.
        Marco Polo
        • 4 Months Ago
        Nope, the original battery supplier is just allowing the remaining unfinshed stock to be sold off. Vectrix is no more.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I agree it's fustrating when new technology is too expensive (it always is and will be at first). BEV's and FCV's are at the stage now where Cell phones were 20 years ago. A portable phone was in a bag you carried on your shoulder, they held a charge less than a day if left on, and were very expensive. Or if you prefer where HDTV's were not that long ago. When they first came out a "modest" size set was $10,000 and that was when no one was broadcasting in HD. (Kind of like not having charging or refuling stations). I am impatient like everyone else and we need to keep pushing the envelope but we will get there.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Shorter range than 80 miles is a lost cause I believe because on very cold days you will lose 20% - 30% of your range, and the same on excessively hot days if you use air conditioning. 80 miles subtract 30% leaves you with 56 miles effective range. Since most people drive 40 miles a day or less that still leaves you with a large margin for errands and emergencies.

      I'd say cars like the Ford and Nissan will be tough to beat.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yeah. I changed my moniker because I got tired of the old one.

        In response to the extreme right-shift our country has taken I needed a screen name that would more likely incite a leftist resurgence (they killed us off last century - time for a comeback). :-)
        • 5 Years Ago
        World... citizen you have a sign much like TheTom are you from Texas?

        How it is with my EV. I notice the heater chews up more electrons than the AC. I don't know that every EV will be this way but mine is. The heater is connected directly to the large pack. The AC runs of the 12 volt system.
        • 5 Years Ago
        But Tom, the Right has served your country so well over the last 10 years... How could you want anything else? You do want to be FREEEEE don't you??? Are you a commie?????

        Superhero, I think the reason your AC uses less energy is because it is a heat pump, which is 4 X more efficient at moving heat than a direct heater is. You could also use a heat pump to do the reverse and heat the cabin instead of a direct heater, but the efficiency of heat pumps goes down at low temps, and below freezing you get ice buildup so that's why a straight heater is better for heating.
        • 5 Years Ago
        @Mark_BC:
        The latest heat pumps using transcritical CO2 as the working fluid work down to very low temperatures:
        http://www.gotohallowell.com/documents/DS_White_PaperLR.pdf
      • 5 Years Ago
      I like the Renault in the first picture. There will be a much better selection of EVs in Europe including Tata's Indica EV and Pinfarnia's BlueCar. I like the Th!nk but they are going to have to sell at a much lower price than originally anticipated, I hope they can pull it off.

      Europe is certainly a much better market for EVs with high taxes on ICEs, expensive gas, and shorter driving distances. Nissan will pretty much have the market to itself here, but will have lots of competition in Europe.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I reckon they will rebadge the Fluence as a Nissan and send it to the US - it is exactly the sort of car that would sell well there.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Yes Nissan might rebadge the Fluence Z.E. since it's a sedan rather than the fish-like Leaf hatchback. In many ways the Fluence Z.E. is similar to the Leaf:
        * same wheelbase
        * slightly smaller pack (22 vs 24 kW·h)
        * much duller design (good and bad)
        * longer because it's a sedan, and also Renault says the Z.E. is longer than the regular Fluence to incorporate the batteries.

        A key feature of the Fluence Z.E. is it's got the QuickDrop battery switch technology compatible with Better Place's dream of a battery exchange network. That only matters where Better Place is likely to set up its network, which right now seems to be Denmark and Israel.

        Nissan can also rebadge the Renault Kangoo Express Z.E. electric minivan to compete with the Ford Transit Connect EV in the USA. Further out, the Zoe Z.E. would be better than the Smart ED or current Mini E, and the Twizy Z.E. is really far-out!

        While everyone else is playing around with one or two concepts and low volume versions, Renault-Nissan has *FIVE* EV models they claim they will bring to production in 2011. Only three have final specifications (the Zoe and Twizy Z.E. remain concepts), but that's still far far ahead of everyone else.
        Iam FFinder
        • 3 Years Ago
        The Renault Fluence ZE will be the cheapest EV from all the EV's above because Renault will be selling the car but lease the hugely expensive ~100 miles ~$19,000 battery pack. The lease of the battery pack should be around the lease of gasoline that people pay to fill up their gasoline cars today. ff
      • 4 Years Ago
      and a brand new prius costs just as much in long term as they keep coming out with new energy efficient 'stuff' such as zero weight oil recommended, etc...2010 prius is pretty awesome and around here you see a bunch....but all elec. is all elec, as in no ICE, and volt is very misleading and is basically funded by US taxpayers...even honda insight will sell better than volt and it is basically integrated motor assist....I hope that piaggio sells a bunch of their hybrid lithium ion mp3s this year and makes the roads safe again for nonaggressive nonsuv drivers who obey traffic laws and respect pedestrians, bikers, and other motorcyclists and actually make roads fun again, instead of violent autobahn.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Where does BMW fit? There are hundreds of "Mini E" EVs driving around.
        • 4 Months Ago
        The next step for BMW is to ship their electric Series 1, the ActiveE, sometime next year. Terms are yet unknown but it be a lease set up as well. The ActiveE looks the part of a BMW but its performance might not be on par with the brands traditional offerings though it will probably carry a significant price tag. The Mini E was $850 a month.
        While it will be in the mix, the number of units shipped will likely be pretty minimal for now.

        It gets a bit more interesting in 2012-2013 when they launch the sub-brand with the Megacity EV commuter vehicle. These will likely be seen as a smaller electric with premium quality, not unlike the image if the Mini. It could be seen as a rival of what Leaf-platformed Infiniti. I think its smaller size should keep it from intruding on the Tesla Model S.

        Overall, they won't be shipping the sheer numbers that GM and Nissan will but they will carve out their niche and build on it.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I like the Bo at the moment, with it's 30kwh batteries giving 150 mile range and its' innovative use of capacitors.
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