A "Worst Electric Car List" Reminds Us How Far We've Come

By · November 05, 2013

The Elcar from the 1970s had a top speed of 25 miles per hour, and driving range of 40 miles.

Jalopnik, the automotive blog, took aim at an easy target yesterday when it posted the “Ten Worst Electric Cars Ever Made.” The list was full of 1970s experiments, three-wheelers, low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles, and Chinese knock-offs—such as Coda Automotive's electric sedan, which hit Number 10 on the list. The goal was yucks: look at a bunch of stupid EVs. But after the LOLs get emailed and tweeted, a more important point emerges. The past era of substandard electric cars—and notions of EVs as glorified golf carts—is long over.

Jalopnik’s hodgepodge of old school electric vehicles had limitations based on inferior technology and relatively high production costs. Back in the day, electric vehicles were powered by lead-acid or nickel-metal-hydride batteries. Today, lithium ion battery chemistry means vastly improved energy density, with more kilowatt-hours stored on board, and driving range pushing toward 100 miles on nearly all available models—with steady and significant improvements expected in the coming years.

Most of the clunkers from the past were so-called neighborhood electric vehicles, limited to a top speed of 25 miles per hour. Others were three-wheelers with questionable stability. Both technology choices allowed small companies build electric vehicles without the need for expensive crash testing to meet federal safety standards. That lowered the price, making them more affordable, but the gravely compromised designs earned derision over the years, which was conjured up again via Jalopnik's list.

Electric Equals Quality and Luxury

Fast forward to today. There is an ever-expanding range of very high quality, fully highway-capable EVs and electric motorcycles—manufactured by the world's leading automotive companies. You might not love the way every EV looks, but the quality of the design, performance and amenities is at the top of each car’s segment. The 2013 Chevy Volt has, for the three years running, been named the number one compact in the annual J.D. Power Apeal study. The Tesla Model S racked up countless top automotive awards, and is taking a measurable percentage of the luxury car market. The Nissan LEAF won World Car of the Year in 2011. The LEAF, Model S, and Volt all have five star crash safety ratings with the federal government.

Let’s not forget the electric motorcycle market. We now have two companies—Zero Motorcycles and Brammo—making excellent electric motorcycles with performance and features that can satisfy nearly all motorcyclists. They claim top speeds around 100 miles an hour—verified in electric motorcycle racing events—and riding range of between 70 and100 miles, with quick recharge times.

The 2012 Coda Automotive electric sedan.

The Coda Automotive electric sedan, despite landing on Jalopnik's list of worst electric cars, is an example of how far the EV market has come.

The Coda electric car had lackluster styling reminiscent of 1990s family cars—but it’s an outlier in the Jalopnik list. Coda’s electric drive train, battery pack, and charging system were decent. The car had the largest trunk space of any electric car other than the Tesla Model S. Coda's battery pack design included an active heating and cooling system, a feature many Nissan LEAF owners suffering from premature range degradation wish Nissan had put into its small EV. It was also one of the first electric cars to have a 6.6-kilowatt on-board charger. These features don’t make up for the car’s other problems, and the mismanagement of the company that led to its demise, but in those features, you can see the emergence of electric cars out of an era of low-quality and low-speed to today’s impressive advances.

Jalopnik’s list is a crack-up to read. At the same time, it should remind carmakers producing electric cars to go the extra mile to avoid invoking the "eeew" response. The negative stereotypes attached to electric vehicles have programmed consumers with skepticism and doubt. Electric vehicles that steer as far away as possible from those outdated stereotypes will fare the best, and do the most to increase the size of the EV market.


· · 24 weeks ago

"The LEAF, Model S, and Volt all have five star crash safety ratings with the federal government."

WRONG. Only the 2011/2012 LEAF had the five star crash safety rating,

The 2013/2014 LEAF are ONLY 4 star rated in crash rating...

· · 24 weeks ago

...which remains hugely superior to any previous-generation EV, and better than even a large swat of today's cars.

That was David's point, but apparently you completely missed it.

Please look at those older plug-ins (and set aside your Volt fanboism for a second if you can). We've come a long way.

· · 24 weeks ago

Pretty funny list. I can't really criticize any of their choices. But I do have sympathy for some of those cars . . . many of them were about all you could buy at the time if you really wanted an electric car.

· · 24 weeks ago

@ Mr. O.

Being on point or not, it doesn't matter. Facts are facts.

I was pointing out a mistake and a fact.

Stop being such as LEAF fanboy or are you afraid of FACTS?

· · 24 weeks ago

"The negative stereotypes attached to electric vehicles have programmed consumers with skepticism and doubt."

This is most certainly true. My wife still gets "glorified golf cart" comments at work about her Leaf, all because of these cars. Especially the Zenn, which a lot of people can still easily remember. It got some press up here in Canada for a while because... sometimes we just think that Canadian automatically means awesome somehow.

· · 24 weeks ago

I have to agree the Coda really doesn't belong on here; the company and its delusions regarding the desirability of an electrified 15-year-old Lancer make a pretty sad story, but the car's faults run more to mediocrity than jaw-dropping awfulness. Yeah, it's a dull little people mover, but is it really a worse car than the TH!NK or the Sparrow? One might argue the Sparrow wasn't a car, but this list does include the Xebra, so that can't be it.

Not so sure about the GEM either. It is what it is - a moderately successful NEV, and I'm sure there were many Sun City residents who just loved it. As Jalopnik admits, it's basically a golf cart, and a perfectly serviceable one at that.

As to the rest of this rogue's gallery, isn't it amazing how many EV pioneers settled on the "rolling doorstop" school of design? I was particularly moved by your pick of the deformed litter, the Elcar, quite literally the Yugo of EVs.

Great fun - and indeed a reminder of how far we've come.

· · 24 weeks ago

Agree that the Coda is a far more capable auto than anything else shown there.

The ad photo for the Elcar is truly hilarious. The lad in the plaid bellbottom slacks and maxi skirt attired lady look more attuned to, say, a '73 Ford Torino than the scruffier dressed enviro-hippies who probably made up the potential customer base for the Elcar.

The Zenn has a curious history. It's a French design, I think, that got imported into North American with the specific idea that it would be only offered as an under 35mph neighborhood vehicle. Although ICE powered versions existed in Europe that were street legal at normal speeds.

Zenn got caught up in the whole EEstor scandal, basically agreeing to stop making further examples of their cars in order to be the exclusive recipient of the make-believe supercapacitor gizmos that EEstor was going to squash the competition with.

· · 24 weeks ago

"The negative stereotypes attached to electric vehicles have programmed consumers with skepticism and doubt."

Kind of like what is happening with hydrogen fuel cells right now. When some idiot makes comments like "fool cells" or "bullsh*t" or "hydrogen is dangerous" it makes me think that those difficult days when the battery electric car was fighting off the oil companies have been long forgotten.

· · 23 weeks ago

@FCatf: No point re-hashing off-topic here. The "idiots" unfriendly to H2FC (myself among them) have made the case here:


The difference between BEVs and H2FCEVs is that BEV's difficult days have gotten progressively less difficult, while H2FC's catalog of problems remains fairly constant (aside from once insanely expensive FCs, which have certainly gotten cheaper). It's not that H2FC never improves - it's just that everything else improves faster.

· · 23 weeks ago

Not off-topic at all. We are celebrating how far the electric car has come, against all the odds, against all the naysayers who said it would never work and could never be economical. All those who shot down the electric car to protect their own interests, who distorted the facts about the technology to portray it as a failure. And yet, the electric car succeeded because science does not stand still.

How are the naysayers of hydrogen technology different? Why do I see so much misinformation about hydrogen and fuel cells out there that it reminds me of the days when big oil companies tried to squash the electric car?

New to EVs? Start here

  1. What Is An Electric Car?
    Before we get going, let's establish basic definitions.
  2. A Quick Guide to Plug-in Hybrids
    Some plug-in cars have back-up engines to extend driving range.
  3. Electric Cars Pros and Cons
    EVs are a great solution for most people. But not everybody.
  4. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  5. Federal and Local Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  6. Eight Factors Determining Total Cost of Ownership of an Electric Car
    EVs get bad rap as expensive. Until you look at TCO.
  7. Quick Guide to Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.
  8. Electric Car Utility Rate Plans: Top Five Rules
    With the right utility plan, electric fuel can be dirt cheap.
  9. The Ultimate Guide to Electric Car Charging Networks
    If you plan to charge in public, you'll want to sign up for charging network membership (or two).
  10. Eight Rules of Electric Vehicle Charging Etiquette
    Thou shalt charge only when necessary. And other rules to live by.