Let's Ease Up on this EV Insult: "Compliance Car"

By · October 09, 2013

Electric car fans have a way to put down the seriousness of certain EVs: “Yeah, but it’s only a compliance car.” The C word expresses the idea that a plug-in car is built specifically to allow an automaker to comply with California’s tough zero emissions mandates, and is therefore not worthy of support or purchase by EV advocates.

Chevy Spark EV

The Chevy Spark EV was built to comply. So what?

If you live outside California and other states where similar zero-emissions mandates exist, you probably find yourself agreeing with that sentiment, since it’s unlikely you’ll find any so-called ‘compliance’ EVs for sale in your area. But while those feelings are perfectly understandable, maybe it’s time to ease up on the compliance car insult, and celebrate what they can do for the image of EVs.

More Choice Equals Better Competition

As with any product, greater competition in the electric car marketplace is a good thing. Not only does healthy competition encourage automakers to strive to improve pricing and specifications of cars, it also gives customers more choice, and more bargaining power when it comes to negotiating price at the dealership.

A great illustration of this can be found in California earlier this year, when rival automakers entered into a price war on lease deals. Ford, Honda, Fiat, and Nissan all had to vie for electric car customers. But while the price war initially started in California, its effects soon spread nationwide. Chevrolet’s decision to cut $5,000 off the price of the 2014 Volt was influenced by this ongoing healthy price war between nationally-available marques and limited-availability compliance cars.

Buying a car is a personal choice. Some customers want cars filled to the brim with gadgets and the latest technology, while others want a utilitarian commuter vehicle. Buyers might want a car which can handle load-carrying duties, while for others, the choice might come down to historical brand loyalty or even the colors offered.

In other words, not everyone wants a Nissan LEAF, even if it is produced by a company that is clearly dedicated to EVs, while most of the competition is content to simply comply.

By requiring automakers to produce electric cars, California helped ensure a breadth of choice which would otherwise not exist. Even though many compliance cars are small city-based models like the Fiat 500e and Chevrolet Spark, some larger cars, like the Toyota RAV4 EV, offer a plug-in option in a part of the market otherwise being ignored.

Maybe it's time to celebrate rather than denigrate compliance. In other words: get over it, people.

Better Visibility

Compliance cars not only improve the health and buyer choice of the plug-in car marketplace in California and across the U.S., but they also help non-EV drivers realize that electric cars are available. For example, a fan of a particular car, like the Fiat 500, might only notice a compliance plug-in car at their local dealer when taking their current car in for a service, or shopping for a model that they had previously thought was only available with a gas engine.

Moreover, the presence of electric versions of gasoline cars in the marketplace, even if selling in low numbers, serves as a real reminder to the general public that almost any car could, if an automaker so desired, be converted into an all-electric or plug-in hybrid model.

That, in turn, leads customers to ask dealerships if they offer a plug-in version of their favorite car, increasing demand for plug-in vehicles.

Why We’re Here Now

Finally, it’s worth remembering where past-generations of compliance cars got us. Cars like the EV1, the original Toyota RAV4 EV, Ford Ranger EV, S10 pickup, Honda Plus and others were essentially built with the sole purpose of satisfying California’s stringent zero emissions mandate.

And while many of those early cars were crushed after automakers lobbied successfully to change the mandate, they had a lasting impact on thousands of Americans who are now again happy EV owners and staunch EV advocates.

Sure, Nissan, Tesla and Chevrolet may be selling the most plug-in cars to customers around the country, but compliance cars have a valid part to play too.


· · 4 years ago

Hear, hear!

· · 4 years ago

Pragmatically, yes, but as you recognize in the paragraph above that, it's not actually available to the vast majority of people. I think you are under-appreciating how this looks to everyone outside of California.

It doesn't help much for competition when the vast majority of the market is excluded. There is the illusion of choice, not actual choice.

They do not "help non-EV drivers realize that electric cars are available" - because they are not available.

When it comes to visibility, what people see is a company who is not serious about developing electrified vehicles. This lack of commitment reinforces the idea that there is no future in electrified transport; who is going to consider a car that the manufacturer has no confidence in? Other than a handful of dedicated die-hards, that is.

For your last argument (people asking dealers for plug-in versions); Consider how well that worked out for hybrids. You have a market dominated by the Prius with the Insight a very distant second, with virtually no other hybrid seen on the road despite every manufacturer offering a hybrid of some kind. Are you content to relegate EVs to under-the-counter sales, available only to people who are aware they exist and have the forethought to ask for them by name?

"Compliance car" isn't an insult - it's a statement of fact. Nearly every vehicle on the road today could have been a hybrid if the auto industry as a whole took it seriously, but they failed. Now EVs are in the same position hybrids were ten years ago and it's set to happen all over again. Let's take "compliance cars" to task for their role in fostering a tepid EV market!

· · 4 years ago

@Smidge +1

I would also add that, because the cars are only sold in CA, and because they get credits for selling them, they can sell them at a loss, thereby undermining every legitimate EV maker that is selling their EVs throughout the country and has to make a profit on them.

The people of CA should *not* buy compliance cars. They should reward those companies who take EVs seriously with their purchase dollars.

· · 4 years ago

Great point on the importance of compliance electric vehicles enabling customer choice. If I counted correctly, there are 14 models of EVs currently available in California and Oregon. While the Spark EV and 500e numbers are constrained (~350 each), other compliance models have produced a 1000(+) with some vehicles finding owners in non-compliance states. For example, there are at least three 2013 RAV4 EVs in Washington.

It is well and good that "customers to ask dealerships if they offer a plug-in version of their favorite car, increasing demand for plug-in vehicles." The problem, (more so in the U.S). is a disconnect between getting feedback from auto dealers back to manufactures. eg: The quality of service at a dealership may not match the quality of a vehicles design.

Customers also need to make demands for vehicle preferences directly to manufactures to ensure their voices are heard. Social media is a great two-way bridge between customers and manufactures, and the smart ones are tuning-in.

· · 4 years ago

@Rick wrote: >>>>>>>>> because the cars are only sold in CA, and because they get credits for selling them, they can sell them at a loss, thereby undermining every legitimate EV maker that is selling their EVs throughout the country and has to make a profit on them<<<<<<<<<

It seems to me this is the critical point. Makers of compliance specials are not investing in the efficient design and manufacture of cost-effective EVs. If you think a 500e is cute and fun to drive, and you're relatively unconcerned about support issues down the road, I'm not saying it's a crime against nature to buy it - go ahead and enjoy. Just don't kid yourself that you're contributing to the advancement of EV technology for the mass market, because Fiat-Chrysler doesn't give two shakes about any of that. They just want to maintain access to the California market, and the 500e is the price of admission.

For those of us who think EVs can and should be a mainstream alternative to ICEVs for a good-size chunk of the market, it makes a lot more sense to support the manufacturers who have committed to cost-effective mass production, or at least nationwide distribution. LEAFs, Volts, Ford Focus Electrics and Energi models, Smart EDs, Mitsu i-MiEVs (when they were around, maybe if/when they come back), all fill the bill. We'll see where Mercedes and BMW are going with their upcoming plug-ins, though so far they're making the right sounds. But RAV4 EVs, Fit EVs, 500es - no, no way. Buy 'em if you like 'em, but only if you don't care about the future of EVs (for yourself or the market as a whole).

The "compliance car" perjorative is not a hollow insult - it's an accurate description and a valid critique. I have little patience with blindered Californians who insist on denying that obvious truth. Compliance cars add nothing to market diversity and competition outside of CARB-led states, and the notion that lease deals on RAV4 EVs that Toyota was forced to unload were influential in Volt price cuts is utter rubbish (those were much more affected by reduced LEAF pricing). Comparisons with the contributions made by compliance specials of yesteryear (EV1, Honda Plus, et al) are equally specious - today we have EVs from manufacturers committed to offering BEVs and/or PHEVs across the U.S., something that wasn't the case in the EV1 era. Again, those manufacturers most committed to the EV business are the ones that deserve our trade, not the purveyors of half-hearted regulatory dodges.

· · 4 years ago

Sorry, Nikki, this current article of yours comes off as an endorsement of the auto industry's intransigence. I'll "get over it" when there is a real choice in EVs beyond the Golden State.

· · 4 years ago

CC @RickDanger

Other states have adopted CA's ZEV regulation (CT, MA, MD, ME, NJ, NY, OR, RI, VT) and their ZEV credits are the same if vehicle is sold in CA, or another ZEV state. However, ZEV credits for vehicles sold in CA can be transferred to any ZEV, but sales in other ZEV states can't be tranfered between ZEV states til 2017. For lowest volume vehicles, limited support is required and CA's ZEV credits offer greatest flexibility as can be transfered to any ZEV state.

Low production volume, plus lack of incentive for dealers to invest in training and service means only a few dealer locations become certified to support compliance vehicles. Manufactures control production volumes & allocations of vehicles to dealers.

'Production volume' is the major characteristic to a being classified as "compliance vehicle", more so than widespread 'market availability'. No compliance vehicle has had consistent sales over 200/month. (<10% of Leaf, Model S, or Volt average monthly sales over last six months in US) With annual PEV sales about to hit 100,000 per year a vehice's MY (Model Year) production must exceed 1000 to capture just 1% of PEV market share.

· · 4 years ago

"More Choice Equals Better Competition"

But those companies manufacturing these compliance cars don't *want* to compete. Really, they don't want to make them at all, and are only forced to do so by the law in a couple of US states. Usually the projects are unprofitable, and automakers will only produce the bare minimum of cars and then stop. As a result, they're permanently in short supply.

While it's great that the Spark EV is different/somewhat better than the Leaf in some respects, the attitude coming from GM isn't "come buy as many of these as you can!" it's "here, take this, now stop bothering us".

This is also apparent in every compliance car manufactured: Noone has built such a vehicle as a purely EV design, but as a conversion car. While I think that the Fit EV is a great idea, it's missing a fair chunk of its trunk space, which is about the biggest reason anyone buys a Fit in the first place.

· · 4 years ago

Nikki has put out a good article, but to me its simple. Without ZED regulations, no electric cars. With ZED regulations the car companies so far has produced an overpriced inadequate product only few will buy and should have failed. The one exception tesla, a car company that doesn't care about credit( except to sell) overpriced sedan. I think there SOLD OUT. Cant make enough. One car wonder. Maybe im missing something here. Or maybe the rest of the car companies are.

· · 4 years ago

In Europe there is no such thing as a compliance car. But still, it saddens me to see that things like the e500 and Spark EV (both available here in ICE form) will not be coming, even though they seem like cars I would consider buying. I guess we're lucky to have Renault over here, otherwise we'd be stuck with less than a hand full of cars to choose from (though plenty more are upcoming)

· · 4 years ago

I agree with Nikki on this one. I am willing to take it further. We should support anything with a plug.

I disagree with the notion that "competition" will undermine the core EVs business from automakers like Nissan and Tesla. It will ONLY make them better.

Nissan was the first one to drop the price. They started the Price war. With extra capacity, it is better in dealing with potential losses. And as far as putting cars on the road go, all plugins do that.

I don't like the fact that you can have any EV you want, as long as it is Volt or Leaf type of idea. Sure, most of the compliance cars are only available in CA but the fact is that CA accounts for more than half of the sales for a long time...

Atlanta is an exception since the Leaf is practically "FREE" over there for 24month lease out of 36 months. That $5K state incentives can be carried over from year to year until you exercise the enough amount. That is the BEST deal in the nation by a long stretch.

Now, I am going to play devil's adocates for a second here. We all wish that EVs will flourish and choices are everywhere. Even for hybrids today, the sales are hoovering around 3-5% of total sales at best. And plugin sales are still less than 1% even with all the choices. So, you can't complain about major automakers NOT being aggressive on them. If you take all the Federal and State incentives away, the sales will easily drop by 50% if NOT more...

Battery price don't drop like electronics when you increase volume. They are more closely related to commodity or raw materials... You will get few percentage per year in price drop, but NOT magnitude or factors of price drop.

I think we should support all forms of plugin. The more owners out there, the more story that people will hear about how "CHEAP" it is to run on electricity. Eventually, people will start crunching the numbers and do it themselves.

Also, people don't just go out and buy a brand new car when the EVs are available. They will buy it when their current car are on its last leg. So, that refreshing will take time and patience is the key.

· · 4 years ago

With respect to the writer who has done much good toward the EV-cause, their point is unfounded and distracting from the goal (their wording smells like they have gone over to the dark-side ?).

The "Yea, but" statement itself pretty much says it all.
That those automakers not committed to purpose-built EVs, and or only putting forth a token effort of small quantity factory conversions of their ice-designed vehicles, ...
does not say what they offer is totally bad, but that it could be better, and it also says ... EV-community beware.

There are many more new electric drivers, many may not know the long nasty history of automakers' dirty tricks. Like while taking U.S. Fed Gov moneys to R&D EVs, they were spending $Million$ to fight them, and develop competition to EVs.

The most matter of fact example not mentioned in WKTEC movie, which discussed the crushing of GM EV1's (a beautifully designed purpose-built EV), is what I witnessed after the repeated presentations of automakers and oil companies at CARB meeting (north and south). Their words were commitment until that fated day when a short, drinking-all-night_red-faced GM rep stood in front of the SCAQMD CARD meeting and said, "We are not going to make EVs". When cornered by CARB officials that they had GM on camera-record stating they would, his retort was, "then we will sell golf-carts ...".

And so they did, with all the other Big7 automakers following suit. They found a legal loophole in the poorly written CARB mandate that allowed them to circumvent their publicly stated commitment. The public has the right to expect much more from automakers. And the knowledgeable plugin-community will keep the automaker's feet-to-the-fire to keep their word.

Having said that, many still won't fully understand what a committed automaker's efforts could be. But, why is that?

There are other states that are parrot'ing CARB's mandate without delving into how it is written, nor what the current CARB board's opinions are. That's a mistake that can be improved on as well.

Automakers are a business with stockholders. They need a defined plan with manufacturing time-line criteria so as to transition into producing purpose-built EVs. What they do not need is wistful opinions that can be stayed politically (as what happened when oily-pocketed former CA Gov Wilson knocked the teeth out of CARB's mandate).

Automakers either publicly or in the background are R&D'ing to not 'have-to' produce EVs (compliance or purpose-built). Because CARB gives credits to h2fcv vehicles like they do with plugin-hybrids, automakers injunction with oil companies are making a h2fcv effort. It is still fossil-fuels to make the h2, only no-one is saying what happens to the CO2 after reforming the h2 from the source.

No, when I hear "Yea, But", it means to me, that the public needs to delve deeper into how the mandate is written, does it suit our current and future needs, 'and' is it in a form that allows huge automakers to make the change over time while satisfying their stockholders. It also means much more watchdog efforts need to be made to keep political decisions out of this process, and to keep automakers and oil companies in-check (those crazy CEO's need monitoring).

That is a tall order, and token automaker efforts to only making enough factory conversions to satisfy the mandate, with models sold-out on the west-coast, with customers on a waiting list for more, yet the automakers could care-less after their quota has been made, ...
just does not give the knowing public the confidence that 'they are serious' ... this-time.

If the writer or anyone does not like the term 'compliance-car', then make an effort to push automakers into producing purpose-built production EVs.

· · 4 years ago

Yes, let's also ease up on the compliance articles Nikki :p

Manufacturers need to be pushed hard and called out on their BS if they are to take this whole EV thing seriously. Very hard. And the ones that seem to be doing a bit better than others pretending and taking credit need to be pushed even harder. They have many excuses and zero reasons to be screwing with us.

Manufacturers also need to be commended, encouraged, and supported when they take the lead, assume the risk, empower their engineers, persevere, and get things right. What is the best form of such an encouragement?

Buy the real EVs they produce.

Yours truly,
Rabid EV fan

· · 4 years ago

The only positive thing I can see from the existence of compliance cars is that the manufacturers are getting real life experience making them (even if they are kicking and screaming) and more exposure in the press about EV's will likely get more people exposed to the fact that EV's exist. I have a bunch of friends who have no clue what I am talking about when I tell them I own a Nissan Leaf. They haven't even heard of one.

· · 4 years ago

Excellent article. EV enthusiasts are often very proud, which is great, but they need to recognize that it's quite an uphill battle to get more people to adopt the technology, and the process will inevitably be gradual. Yes, we should applaud the companies that are diving into the technology head first, but to attack the companies that are being more cautious about it is unfair. These so-called compliance cars are attracting a lot of attention from people who are now realizing the PEV movement goes beyond just the Volt and the Leaf that they're sick of hearing about. They may not yet be available to them, but the momentum is growing gradually, and these low-volume cars will lead to higher volume cars as sales pick up.

It's really easy to blame big faceless companies, but I've worked with EV engineers and product managers at a number of them, and they are working damn hard. The products are good, the challenge is in getting the word out. It may seem like there's a lot of demand in the EV blog echo chamber, but if the demand were actually there, why wouldn't these "evil" companies want to make money off of it?

· · 4 years ago

You sound as if "Compliance Car" is a bad term. Not at all. So nothing to "get over."

Right now plugin electric cars are all compliance cars in a way aren't they. They all get certain ZEV credits that help their maker financially. Lowering the price, or "price war" as you stated, was done to move more of those cars that can gain their makers more ZEV credits with volume. Honda realized that the Fit EV wasn't moving and so their effort to offer a compliance car was failing. So they dropped the price. Others followed as that market/ customer base might now shrink and they all need to get those cars on the road now or pay. They didn't want to get left out. More Volts and Leafs on the road gain ZEV credits for the entire fleet of GM and Nissan. So lowering their price makes those companies MORE money if they get MORE plugin cars on the road. ZEV volume.They are complying with the law to gain ZEV credits by selling more cars. Compliance Cars.

We are not there yet. In my view NO traditional automaker is all in when it comes to marketing plugin electric cars. They are being forced to make these cars by law and to not recognize that is how it will all started to fall apart. Don't take the very hard work done by plugin car advocates fro granted.

Better to write about what will indicate to us when we will not need a ZEV Mandate anymore.

Maybe when GM advertises their plugin electric car as superior to any gasoline car. :)

· · 4 years ago

Well for those of you that live outside of California, you too can get these ZEV cars if you get your state to pass the ZEV rules. Oregon did and they get the Spark EV. As other states have ZEV requirements, they'll get ZEV cars.

· · 4 years ago

"I have little patience with blindered Californians who insist on denying that obvious truth. Compliance cars add nothing to market diversity and competition outside of CARB-led states,"

I have little patience for whiners that don't get their own states to adopt the ZEV mandates. You want the cars? Then do something about it. And have compliance cars does expand the market for EVs, creates more demand for EV components like motors, controllers, and batteries. Without the the ZEV mandate, we might not have any EVs on the market right now.

· · 4 years ago

Automakers have always resisted change that cost them money. But I think California should not give zev credits on vehicles with closed end leases like the fit ev. Maybe that will make them wake up!!! CARB caved in once. It's called fight hard make the automakers want to change. Selling limited numbers of vehicles in two states is no way to make a business case!!! Of course I live in the northeast so I do believe "compliance cars" should be produced for ALL states!!! But maybe i'm just biased.

· · 4 years ago

@Benjamin Nead +1

Possibly the most interesting point is that manufacturers do get miffed at the use of the term in reference to their low five digit Production EV runs. (personal correspondence).

It's simply a factually accurate descriptive label for a limited production run after which very little effort is spent marketing them.

When priced correctly, they fly off the lot and not much effort is actually required, apparently (Honda Fit EV, Fiat 500e)

Maybe we should call them "half hearted effort" cars instead. Vike +1 also.

· · 4 years ago

OK Nikki, you have officially redeemed yourself from all the Think bashing you used to do.

Now, a "test" market car might be a justifiable slur.

· · 4 years ago

@Spec writes: >>>>>>>>>I have little patience for whiners that don't get their own states to adopt the ZEV mandates. You want the cars? Then do something about it.<<<<<<<

Like what? Move to California? Because the compliance car scam isn't really the fault of lame manufacturers trying to cheat the CARB rules by sleazing by with the least possible effort, refusing to ship their EVs anywhere they're not forced to? Because it's really the fault of people too stupid to live in California that they are rightfully denied access to the fruits of the Golden State's visionary policies and spiritual leadership?

Thanks so much for that. You've summed up the left coast's rotten narcissism and self-absorption with near crystalline precision, underscoring why your opinions may be disregarded. Because for the rest of us relegated to the benighted depths of flyover country, and more important, markets too small to force global automakers to do ANYTHING (or did you forget that's the only reason CARB matters?), such advice falls way short of helpful.

Plumbing new depths there, Spec, even for you. Hey, while you're at it, why don't you get out there and kick a few puppies around? Serves 'em right for being so scrawny and whiny, don't ya think?

· · 4 years ago

The point that low sales prices of compliance cars is detrimental to those who are producing in decent volume is a fair one.

There is another plus to limited production runs of compliance cars that has not been mentioned above though.

Producing compliance cars means that most of the manufacturers have put the money and development effort into BEVs, so that when they think that they can sell them and make a profit they have already done a lot of the hard work.

They would have to do a lot more investment of course, as they would have to get serious about producing specialist platforms, instead of converting existing ones ( cough 'Ford' cough ) , lightweighting and taking cost out of the production process, but they are a long way along simply by having done the engineering to produce compliance vehicles.

That should mean a lot more choice down the road.

· · 4 years ago

@Spec: "Well for those of you that live outside of California, you too can get these ZEV cars if you get your state to pass the ZEV rules"

Did you personally fight to have CARB adopt these rules? If so, thank you, because you're right - without them, nobody would have EVs.

However, it's more than a little naive to think that people can simply get their state to pass ZEV rules. Here in NY, the state government is so corrupt and entrenched that grassroots efforts are a joke. We will never get such strict ruling as CA has. There is also the fact that CA, especially LA, has a horrendous problem with smog that just isn't the same here on the east coast. We don't have the tall mountains trapping emissions. NYC's emissions simply blow out to sea. As a result, the denizens don't necessarily see and feel their effects. I would wager most people are blissfully ignorant of the problem.

In the meantime, I am grateful to CA for pushing automakers, and for Nissan/Chevy/Tesla for going above and beyond (what do YOU think of someone who just does the bare minimum ;) ). Now that the cat's out of the bag, the other companies will be forced to catch up or be left behind. Yes, the market is small today, but it is growing fast.

· · 4 years ago

After reading all comments and posting one of mind its still the same. Only one of these companies are making these cars because they want to. Tesla which is starting to make a profit. And the sad part to me is a car with range people want, creative financing ( pay for with fuel saving ) Every household could buy one today. I will be glad to stop calling the cars a compliance car. But I want stop calling these companies STUPID

· · 4 years ago

>>Like what?

Vote. Contact your politicians. Petition.

And yes, I did vote for politicians that supported these policies and have contacted my politicians on EV matters.

· · 4 years ago

In some way, all plugin cars are "compliance" cars. Why? They all receive varies government incentives to buy it. If those government incentives go away tomorrow, how many will they sell? The only one that will keep selling at the current price is probably Tesla (But I am sure its Norway sales will drop if the Norway government take away incentives). So, at the end of the day, until EVs can stand on their own merit without any government incentives is the day that they are ready for the mass. Prius did that with 2nd and 3rd Gen. Now, it is time for any automaker to make a 200 miles EV that is $35k or under.

Until then, all EVs are some what a "compliance" car....

· · 4 years ago

Modern, i somewhat disagreed, the incentive could go away and we would stil have electric cars but if the mandate goes only tesla would remain. But they are a one hit wonder and will take them 20 years to be half the company GM is today. But as electric car lovers I think we owe them a big big thanks, if the car companies could overturn the mandate they still have the problem tesla sell everyone (car) they can produce. As long as that happens they will need to deal with that. Hopefully with there own car and not the junk they have on the market now.

· · 4 years ago


I believe whoever comes out with a $35K 200 miles EV (real world range) that is midsize sedan will be the Model T of EVs...

But currently without incentives, majority of the plugins cars won't be sold except for Tesla. They are just NOT good enough. Even the Volt. Without any federal incentives, the Volt sales will be lucky to be 10% of what it is today.

· · 4 years ago

@Spec: I'm sorry - did you actually think:

>>>> >>>Like what?

>>>> Vote. Contact your politicians. Petition.

. . . was in some way responsive to what I wrote? Seriously? Because, just to refresh your memory, what I said was:

>>>>> for the rest of us relegated to the benighted depths of flyover country, and more important, markets too small to force global automakers to do ANYTHING (or did you forget that's the only reason CARB matters?), such advice falls way short of helpful. <<<<<

Were you literally incapable of understanding that paragraph, or just so focused on your narrow little chauvinistic contempt for folks in the hinterland that you chose to ignore what it said? Let me put it more plainly (or at least differently, since I'd thought it was quite plain enough already).

I can petition all I want. My legislators can pass whatever laws they want - it won't matter. My state is too small for anyone to care about in terms of access to its market. They can bluff, but their laugable little bluff will be called. CARB matters because they can block access to the nation's largest automobile market. The other "ZEV" states are either pretty important on their own or right next door to CARB-following states that are (e.g., Oregon may not matter, but the incremental effort to accommodate them is of no consequence).

What part of this do you find so hard to understand? I'm done explaining, in any case. Keep kicking those puppies if you like, but at some point, you'll just wind up as ignorable as . . . well, no need to name names.

Beyond that, this entire ridiculous topic (stupidly berating EV fans who can't get access to compliance cars for not getting their local pols to join in the fun) is a digression from the main point - compliance cars advance nothing but the commercial interests of their grudging, ICEV-championing purveyors. Nothing wrong with buying one for personal reasons, but don't pretend it's helping. If you want to support the development and sale of EVs, buy EVs that were developed to be sold. You can split hairs all you like about who's "really" committed and why, but the line I choose to draw is whether the manufacturer is willing to meet demand from all comers, or only in limited quantities to just barely satisfy legal requirements for staying in business in California. That seems to me a minimum threshold to establish seriousness of purpose, and for the life of me, I have no idea why that would be a controversial proposition.

· · 4 years ago

@ModernMarvelFan "In some way, all plugin cars are "compliance" cars. Why? They all receive varies government incentives to buy it. If those government incentives go away tomorrow, how many will they sell?"

Manufacturers are required by law to meet certain emissions requirements. This is true independent of any government incentives that are offered to buyers... so having incentives in place does not have any bearing on compliance with the law. They are completely separate things.

It's the absolute minimal effort put forth by some companies that makes it a "compliance car."

· · 4 years ago


A lot of us get your point, and I know that you get all of the points that have been posited here. It's particularly frustrating to see a darn good little car come out that would be economical, fun to drive and fill a badly needed niche. But then, to see that the manufacturer is relly only making the car becuase they "have to", is frustrating. There is validity to the point that every EV made serves to further educate the manufacturer, teach them as they develop the technology further. But it is hard when people see that they already have produced a more than viable product. Whatever learning they expect to result from this could be had while those compliance cars re marketed to non ZEV states...

· · 4 years ago

My (perhaps naively optimistic) theory is that, as the California's ZEV mandate becomes more restrictive in subsequent years (ie: more vehicles per manufacturer having to comply annually,) there will be a tipping point. OEMs will eventually come to the conclusion that they're making enough EVs for California because they have to and that it only makes sense to offer them elsewhere.

Not saying that it's going to happen in the next 3 to 5 years or that the process isn't going to by awkward and/or painful to watch. But this appears to be the general direction we're headed with this.

Things to watch: deployment of OEM fuel cell vehicles as a distraction and how soon well see next generation (better energy density and cheaper) batteries come to the market.

· · 4 years ago

A lot of EV people like to complain a lot. "Oh, it's just a compliance car"
is one of them.

It's an EV, and it will be sold. Get over it.

· · 4 years ago

Yes, Michael, and we're going to keep on complaining. What, may I ask, is your particular motivation for not wanting to see any and all new EVs from being sold in all 50 states?

· · 4 years ago

If it is so "awful", as the EV whiners like to say, then why would you want it sold in all 50 states? Oh, that makes sense

· · 4 years ago

You're not making sense, Micheal. What is "it?" Some here have issues with particular cars and probably wouldn't consider the purchase of a particular make/model of EV, even if it was available everywhere. But that would apply gasoline-powered automobiles as well, which is why you see such a variety in size, shape, configuration and price point . . . something that isn't the case for EVs sold beyond the borders of California.

Almost all posting here have made a compelling argument for automakers to stop the silly compliance game. I'll ask again . . . what is your particular motivation to see the practice continue?

· · 4 years ago

I'm not talking about the car, I talking about the irony of this whining here.

First, they say it's a compliance car, and it's no good.

Then they think the manufacturer should sell this "no good" car in all 50 states.

· · 4 years ago

The 'compliance car' whining indicates to me an impatience with the automakers for their lack of hastiness in becoming committed to EVs. And with the EV Spark, it provides cover for all those who despise GM to continue spouting their anti-GM diatribes.

The Spark is different from typical compliance cars. It's an in-house creation rather than an out-sourced, sub contracted modification. I find it interesting that GM went this route.

What they came up with is an EV that pushes the envelope a bit. Its hi-torque motor with tall gearing gives it a different personality than other EVs. Could GM's objective with the Spark EV be multi-faceted? Could it be they are using it for compliance, but also as a real world test-bed for other ideas they've got in mind?

GM's fully in the game, but since the Volt came out, they've been playing their cards rather close to the chest.

· · 4 years ago

@Tra2S: I like what I've read about the Spark EV, and would certainly have considered it if it had been on offer when I bought my i-MiEV. So sure, I'd be thrilled if GM were "fully in the game." But we obviously perceive things differently, as I see no evidence of that whatever. Never following through on the MPV5 (the only configuration that stood a chance of making Voltec mass-market, as opposed to the marginally practical Volt and useless platinum-priced ELR), withholding the Spark EV from national distribution, and going all in with the wasteful distractions of the SAE-CCS scam - sorry, but none of that speaks "EV champion" to me.

· · 4 years ago

I'm guessing, Micheal, you're referring to earlier comments on this thread regarding the Fiat 500e. One person here says it's not for him, but others here might just as easily find it to their liking. That's why it's so frustrating: many of those people who might want to buy/lease that car live east of California.

Some wish not to support manufacturers who currently only play the compliance game. I think this is a perfectly logical reaction. But I'm going to guess those same people would have far more respect for a manufacturer who takes a chance on the rest of the country.

Approximately 3 years into this we've (that's all states in this country, not just one or two) got pretty much the same lineup of relatively affordable pure EVs to chose from: the Leaf and the i-miEV. There should be better variety out there and available to all who are willing to shell up.

· · 4 years ago

@vike: Lots of reasons point to GM being 'deep in the EV game' if you take into account this 'game' has just gotten started, and that it is way too early to predict with certainty where it is headed and when the breakthroughs will happen.

You see no evidence of GM's committment - more cars primarily or fully powered by electricity than any other car company selling in America; recently expanded, large battery testing facility; in-house drive motor production; investment in Envia who is busy chasing the holy grail in battery tech; years of groundbreaking development and market introduction of the Voltec concept; and the presence of the Volt which has become the plug-in sales leader in America.

It's too early in the game to count out a company with this committment, MPV5 notwithstanding. As I said, they are now playing their cards close to their vest. For all we know, they could be undergoing a major reshuffling of their EV product strategy in light of where the market presently shows the most promise. In light of Tesla's great success at the six-digit price level, GM might be realizing they were aiming too low by bringing out the Volt as a Chevrolet instead of making it a Cadillac. It could be that the ELR's mission is to begin the process of taking over the reins of GM's EV program from the Volt which could very well become a decontented BEV in coming years while Cadillac takes over the EREV segment for GM, offering different levels of EV range similar to what Tesla does at different price points.

It makes sense to me that GM would want to place their highest and most innovative technology with their most premium brand. Just as they did in their most successful and dominant years after WWII.

To sum up, the game is just getting going, GM's in it for the long haul with many more players yet to come.

· · 4 years ago

@Tra2S: Well, again, we're seeing the same things and interpreting them differently. I guess it comes down to willingness to take the company at its word, and GM has exhausted my trust. That "more cars primarily or fully powered by electricity than any other car company selling in America" line is pretty rich (I'd call it pure GM-speak). It's only true if you count all those "mild hybrid" start/stop critters that GM salts through their line, with such monumental achievements as adding 3 MPG to a pickup truck. In terms of cars sold nationwide that can be called EVs without laughing, GM sells the Volt, period, and the story around that project is complicated enough that I don't think it makes an unassailable case for GM's commitment to electrification. Yeah, it's a big project, but they're a huge company, and in that context Voltec doesn't even rate as a side bet.

Now don't get me wrong - I do hope you're right, because it would mean we'll soon have a number of attractive BEV and PHEV options from GM addressing different market segments. But I'm not going to believe that until I see the products in a local showroom. They've just been blowing too much smoke for too many years.

· · 4 years ago

Vike, I don't quite understand the specifics as to what GM did to exhaust your trust. They've had a tumultuous past 10 years with a lot of change up top during which time they've had to face the music to which they've been relegated to the Golden Oldies by the buying public. GM has faced up to their march to oblivion by putting effort into turning around the downward slide with products designed and executed to be far more competitive with today's most respected brands. It's still a work in progress; they've got a lot of baggage to shed.

Be forgiving of the past and patient for their future with GM. Do not close them out with negativity - instead, give them incentive to do more to expand electrification with positive criticism rather than negative BS and doubts based upon the past, of old GM.

They are a major player, but realize they will let the market decide the direction it wants to take rather than committing to one way or the other. Hence, 2 x EREVs (Volt and ELR) and a compliance state BEV at present. The Spark EV has had glowing reviews from media and owners; rather than criticising the car and its maker, why not join the believers and help spike demand for it upward. At some point GM has to take notice and respond... in a way which benefits all.

· · 4 years ago


"more cars primarily or fully powered by electricity than any other car company selling in America"

I don't think this statement includes any hybrids, let alone mild ones. The Volt is primarily powered by electricity. The Spark EV is fully powered by electricity. Non-plug-in hybrids are marginally powered by electricity, at best, and 100% of it comes from gasoline.

Certainly in the US, the Volt + Spark EV sales have exceeded both Nissan's and Tesla's sales to date. No other automaker comes close to these three.

As for the greater picture, I too am not quite ready to take GM at their word that they are "fully committed" to EVs. If they were, where is the crossover Volt? The SUV Volt? The pickup truck Volt? Maybe - just maybe - they are waiting for their new global platform to roll out more Voltec options. Like you, I will believe it when I see it in show rooms (not just auto shows).

· · 4 years ago

@Brian - What makes you so sure a crossover Volt will be a success for GM?

I think if GM has learned anything from Tesla, it's that a top down approach is the wise way to introduce cutting edge products. Price of admission is currently high in the EV world; might as well aim high if you've got the goods to wow the marketplace. Tesla had it with the Model S, and it fast became a hit.

The Model X looks like it's on its way to repeat the success as a premium product. If I were running GM, I wouldn't let Tesla gobble up all for themselves the premium sector with the Model X as they have done with the Model S. I would instead turn the EREV crossover into a Cadillac and go after where the money is.

Chevy can wait.

· · 4 years ago

Fair point about the hybrids - a careless reading on my part. But back to our compliance car theme, the only car I'll count is the Volt. Spark EVs are not relevant to me because GM will not sell one to me. We've already discussed ad nauseam whether or not that's a fair perspective, so I'll not rehash it here.

I realize I do tend to harp on the MPV5 (and gaze longingly at the ever-delayed Outlander PHEV), but it's not because I'm madly in love with CUVs. It's just that every PHEV on the market is maddeningly compromised right now (Ford's Energi models in particular sporting trunks that verge on self-parody), most often in the area of what cars are primarily built to do - transport people and their gear (the sole exception, the PriusPI, instead sacrifices EV range by declining to stuff in batteries to the point that they intrude on usable space). The O-PHEV solves that problem by utilizing the high-profile CUV form factor to deliver a vehicle with the necessary engine, batteries, and motors, and still provide reasonable accommodations for five (very comfortable for four) plus generous cargo space. The MPV5 looks like a package that could accomplish similar not so magical but highly useful feats.

By contrast, in its Volt GM delivers a much-ballyhooed EVRE drivetrain that in principle solves the range issue but in practice is used to propel a package that can't actually be used for a road trip by anyone but a childless couple (or some minimalists trying to make a fake point). I'll likely be replacing my Gen2 Prius in the next couple of years, and the Volt cannot come close to its functionality. It's fine as a demonstration platform, and reviews suggest it works harder at being a desirable driver's car than most EVs, but for Pete's sake, as a passenger car, practically speaking the Volt delivers less than a Cruze or Corolla. And then, having made these sacrifices, one still doesn't get very impressive EV range or "sustaining mode" MPG.

Before we start arguing about the fairness of "impressive," let me get back to the MPV5, the package about which Tra2S has expressed some doubts. I think a Voltec powered vehicle that (compared with the Volt) offered similar price, slightly less EV range, slightly less MPG, and Outlander-type passenger and cargo space would be a much more attractive proposition to many more buyers than the Volt has proven to be, while still being more EV-capable than any other PHEV out there.

I hope a reconfigured next-gen Volt takes that approach. But as things stand, I think GM made choices in the Volt that appear calculated to limit its appeal. That's part of what feeds my skepticism about General EV-Crusher's intentions.

· · 4 years ago


Of course I don't know that a crossover Volt would be a success for GM. But I do believe that it has more potential than today's Volt. Given that, I also question why GM has yet to produce the car, unless they are still working on testing and safety behind the scenes.

In addition to having more space (and hence actually being a suitable road-trip vehicle, as vike1108 points out), customers are used to paying more for larger cars. The Volt is often compared to a Cruze (whether or not that is right), which creates a lot of sticker shock. If a crossover Volt was compared to an equinox or traverse, the sticker shock would not be as bad.

· · 4 years ago

@Brian makes an excellent point about a Volt CUV and pricing. It really wouldn't cost that much more to manufacture a Volt in CUV form; in general, smaller cars don't cost much less to make, they're just sold at lower margins than their big brothers. A Volt that presents as a more cramped Cruze at double the price will obviously be perceived as a worse value than one that would present as an Equinox near-equivalent for a 35-40% premium. As I noted, I think the more significant hit will be on fuel efficiency, but it shouldn't be all that bad.

We've actually seen Ford play this margin differential game with the Lincoln MKZ, which has long offered its hybrid drivetrain for "free". Margins are so much higher on luxury cars, even "entry level" models, that Ford still makes plenty of money on MKZ hybrids, and they can sure use the kick it gives to fleet MPG numbers. Margins on Fusions are too low to support a hybrid "giveaway" on that model.

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