Five Electric Cars Facing Demise in 2013
It appears there are about a dozen plug-in cars currently on the market. But looks are deceiving. Actually, after two full years since the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF went on sale, there are only five models selling in any decent volume. And despite a handful of new models expected to hit the market this year, the list of legitimate EVs and plug-in hybrids might shrink during the course of 2013.
In addition to the Volt and LEAF, there is the Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Ford C-Max Energi, and the Tesla Model S. The Ford Fusion Energi, which will arrive in “early 2013,” looks like a serious product. But all the other models have been selling or leasing in quantities below about 200 units per month—the same pace expected from new EVs coming later in the year, most of which will be available only in California.
Attrition is not new to the plug-in market. In 2012, we witnessed the downfall of Think City and the Ford Transit Connect Electric. Sales of both models were negligible before their plugs were pulled. Even before seeing the light of day, Toyota yanked production of an all-electric minicar that it had been talking about for years. As we reported last week, Audi can’t make up its mind about EVs. And the fate of so many other concepts—from Aptera to Volvo—has either crashed, or is stuck in endless cycles of analysis by automakers.
What’s the bottom line reason that some EVs fail? The fast answer: they cost way too much for what you get. An elevated price tag for a vehicle lacking in quality, safety, space or range is symptomatic of a carmaker not having a solid business model, and/or a serious commitment to making a go of it. Based on the fundamentals, I wonder if the following cars will bite the dust in 2013 or soon after.
Coda Sedan: Coda’s EV has been plagued by low safety ratings and poor ride quality. Its corporate management has not been willing to acknowledge the difficulties of selling a China-sourced, bland-looking EV for nearly $40,000, prior to incentives. A series of recent layoffs, including much of the company’s sales force, means Coda could soon cease to exist as a car company, after selling only about 100 units.
Fisker Karma: Missed deadlines, bad reviews, safety recalls, problems with suppliers, and a revolving door of company leadership. As beautiful as the car looks, its lack of efficiency and quality, combined with a six-figure price tag, will make it difficult for even the most skilled executive to engineer a turnaround.
Mitsubishi i: Osamu Masuko, Mitsubishi’s president, admitted in October 2012 that its EV plans were not working out. “To solve this issue,” Masuko said, “our resolution is plug-in hybrids.” This change of heart about pure EVs means that the diminutive i or i-MiEV, which has been selling about 40 or 50 units per month, could be on the chopping block. What’s the point?
BYD E6: It’s been several years since BYD started showing off its all-electric E6 and F3DM plug-in hybrid, but there are still no visible signs of these Chinese plug-in cars going on sale in the U.S. Even sales in its Chinese home markets have been well below expectations. After years of delays, the company has lost credibility that it will usher in a new era of Made in China fully capable electric vehicles.
Chevrolet Spark EV: The Spark EV doesn’t go on sale in California until summer 2013, but there’s little evidence that this all-electric microcar can succeed when the Mitsubishi i, Think City, Smart Electric Drive, or Toyota iQ-EV came up short. Like the other models on the list, the price of the Spark EV is out of whack with its features and odd looks. Critics and shoppers will be quick to point out that the gas version of the Spark starts at $13,000, while the electric variant begins at $32,000 (before incentives). Fortunately, the future of the Volt and other G.M. plug-in hybrids are on more certain ground.
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