With two mass-produced models arriving soon, automakers are working hard on creating true electric vehicles.
When can you join the electric car race? The answer is right now, if you have $100,000 for the all-electric Tesla Roadster. Don't worry, more practical and less expensive electric options are on the way and by late 2010, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt and 2011 Nissan Leaf are scheduled to go on sale in select markets.
EVs are not a new concept; they were among the earliest cars on the road. Gas-powered versions edged them out because of a century's worth of cheap oil, weak battery technology and long-distance highway travel. Despite a small resurgence in California in the 1990s, the electric car has been more myth than reality over the last 20 years. Recent volatility in gas prices helped reignite interest in EVs.
Tomorrow's EVs won't be limited to just small, sporty cars like the Tesla Roadster. "Different people need different cars," said Sherry Boschert, vice president of Plug-in America, a nonprofit advocacy group for EVs. Because of that, car companies are planning to build plug-in trucks, commercial vans, SUVs and sedans.
A major hurdle for EVs has been range anxiety — a fear that your electric car won't be able to get you everywhere you need to be, or at least back from there. Some automakers, including GM, have added onboard gas- or ethanol-powered generators to their EVs. "The internal combustion engine is like a security policy that makes [drivers] feel safe," Boschert said. The gas engine kicks in when the batteries are running out of juice.
New battery technology may help make EVs more palatable to consumers by ensuring a longer range. Lithium-ion batteries are relatively new, but the chemistry will be used in all of tomorrow's plug-ins. Why? "You get the same amount of power with only half the weight of nickel-metal-hydride batteries. They're smaller and have a higher power density," said Nick Cappa, Chrysler's advanced technology spokesman. Nickel-metal-hydride batteries are used in all of today's hybrids and electric vehicles.
To combat the cost of electric cars the federal government now offers EV buyers tax credits from $2,500 to $7,500. Nissan has listed the Leaf's MSRP at $25,280 after a $7,500 tax credit. Most EVs are expected to qualify for the maximum credit.
The following is a list of EV models that have automakers, investors and companies backing them. Three models are available in some form today, with many more to come in the not-so-distant future. In these trying economic times, some of the cars planned could fail as capital and consumer spending remains slow.
"A lot can happen between now and then," Boschert said. "I know well enough from experience that seeing is believing; until you can go out and buy [an EV], it's not certain."
UP AND COMING ELECTRICS
Tesla Roadster: This two-seat sports roadster is the poster child of the EV revolution, and the sleek-looking sports machine has a 244-mile range. With the fed's $7,500 tax credit, the Tesla Roadster's MSRP is $101,500.
Mini E: It's an electrified version of a Mini Cooper, and only two passengers can fit into it because the backseat has been replaced with a battery pack. The car has a 150-mile electric range. You'll have to be lucky or connected to get one: Only 450 Mini Es have been leased under one-year agreements.
Myers NmG: Myers Motors claims its tiny shoehorn-shaped one-seater is the first lithium-ion-powered street- and-highway-legal sub-$30,000 electric car. You can place your order at myersmotors.com.
Chevrolet Volt, 2010: This four-passenger compact plug-in hybrid is GM's attempt at a Prius killer. The vehicle has a small gas/ethanol generator and an electric motor to power the wheels — what GM is calling its Voltec powertrain. The vehicle can run 40 miles on electric only and travel 400 miles between gas station fill-ups. It's expected to hit dealerships in late 2010.
Nissan Leaf, 2010: The Leaf is an all-electric five-seat hatchback that will be available at the end of 2010 in select markets and widely available in 2011, according to Nissan. Unlike the Volt, the Leaf doesn't use a range-extender engine to charge the battery. On a full charge the Leaf's range is rated at 100 miles; top speed is said to be more than 90 mph.
Fisker Karma, 2010: The four-passenger plug-in hybrid luxury sports sedan will have a 50-mile electric driving range, the company says. It's scheduled to be available in the second half of 2010. Like the Volt, the Karma will use a range-extender engine to increase total range up to 300 miles. The hybrid combo will propel the vehicle from zero to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds.
Ford Transit Connect Electric, 2010: Available for commercial use only, the 2011 Transit Connect Electric utility van will be Ford's first battery-electric car when it's available in late 2010.
Miles EV Highway Speed, 2010: Miles EV says its five-passenger electric sedan is undergoing safety testing. Expected range is 100 miles.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV, 2010-12: This small four-seat electric car has an 80-100 mile range. Testing and evaluation for the U.S. is under way in California. The i-MiEV goes on sale in Japan in July 2010, and we're told its stateside arrival should be expected "before 2012." BMW Concept ActiveE, 2011: Like the Mini E, BMW will lease ActiveE models to select markets. The ActiveE is an electrified version of the BMW 1 Series.
Phoenix SUV and truck, 2011: Phoenix Motors plans to sell the first EV dual-cab truck and SUV in 2010. Each seats five and has a cruising range of 130 miles. The SUV and truck can be charged in 10 minutes with a special charging port, according to Phoenix.
Think City, 2011: Starting in early 2011 the City will be manufactured in Elkhart, Ind. Built for urban environments, the small City electric car will first see use in New York City. Its range is an estimated 100 miles, and Th!nk says its City is capable of highway speeds. Ford Focus Electric, 2011: We don't know much about the Ford Focus Electric, but Ford says the all-electric vehicle will be available in 2011.
Tesla Model S, 2012: Tesla wants to follow up its Roadster with a five-passenger EV sedan. The sedan would have a 240-mile range with an expected price around $60,000, according to Tesla. The company has delayed its original target date to at least 2012.
Toyota FT-EV, 2012: Based on the Toyota iQ — a small city car that will be sold in the U.S. in 2011 as the Scion iQ — this all-electric vehicle has an expected 50-mile range.
Ford plug-in vehicle, 2012: Ford says its next-generation hybrid system will feature plug-in capabilities. Currently, the automaker is testing the powertrain on the Ford Escape Hybrid. When charged, the vehicle can run 30 miles on electric only.
Fiat 500 EV, 2010: A gasoline-powered Fiat 500 will hit the states by the end of this year, and an all-electric version is scheduled for a 2012 release. The 500 EV will use technology from Fiat's recent acquisition of Chrysler and its electric program, though many important specs, including the vehicle's range and cost, are still under wraps.