Five Canceled Electric Car Concepts: Lessons Learned

By · June 28, 2010

One reason that green car fans are so excited about the upcoming Nissan LEAF, Chevy Volt, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, and Ford Focus Electric is that these cars are definitely, absolutely and positively going to be produced and sold in the United States.

It’s easy enough for a car company to write up a press release, push an exciting electric-drive concept car to an auto show platform, and strike up the music. In the process, hopes are raised—only to be dashed with the swipe of an auto executive’s hand.

Takeaway: No matter what anybody says, be skeptical until you see a confirmed launch date and price—and multiple reviewers have taken a test drive of a production model, not a concept or test prototype.

Audi A1 e-tron

Audi A1 e-tron

The Audi A1 e-tron apparently is the latest electric car to fall. Autoblog reported that Audi boss Rupert Stadler said the A1 e-tron concept will not see production. Instead of the all-electric version, Audi will probably add a stop-start system with regenerative braking to the A1 platform.

The A1 e-tron is the follow-up to the e-tron electric sports car shown earlier in Frankfurt and Los Angeles. That vehicle, while gorgeous, was all show from the beginning: four electric-drive motors, one for each wheel, pumping out more than 300 horsepower.

The A1 variant was a pint-sized version of the e-tron idea, using a 12-kilowatt-hour lithium ion battery—rather than 53 kilowatt hours. The subcompact A1 e-tron used a plug-in series hybrid approach—supplying 30 miles of all-electric driving, until the gas engine provided an additional 125 miles.

Dodge Circuit (and other Chrysler EVs)

Dodge Circuit

In September 2008, Chrysler’s then-president Jim Press said the company's first wave of electric cars were “closer to production than you think.” At the time, Chrysler showed an electric-drive vehicle for each of its brands, including a Jeep Wrangler 4x4 and Chrysler Town & Country minivan with series hybrid powertrains, and a cute all-electric neighborhood vehicle called the Peapod. But the eye candy was the Dodge Circuit—an electric adaptation of the Lotus Europa, said to do 0 to 60 mph in less than 5 seconds, and offer a range of 150 to 200 miles. Former Chrysler CEO Bob Nardelli said the Circuit and the other models would go on sale by the end of 2010.

Fast forward to mid-2010: Chrysler is now lobbying Congress on a measure to require the U.S. Postal Service to buy electric vehicles—which the company, it just so happens, plans to produce.

Volkswagen e-Up!

Volkswagen e-Up!

In April, Volkswagen “confirmed” that will it deliver on its promise to release at least one, but up to three, electric vehicles by 2013. The first one was going to be the E-Up! electric city car—a two-door small car with roughly 130 miles of range.

The electric e-Up! was only the latest form for the microcar concept—which over two-and-half-years also took the shape of a better Smart ForTwo, a family of mini cars, and a lightweight diesel hybrid. With each iteration, the timeline moved further back.

Now the electric version appears to be dead—replaced by the e-Golf, which was “confirmed” for 2013. VW begins testing a fleet of 500 electric Golfs "under all conceivable conditions" next year.

Cadillac Converj

Cadillac Converj

The Cadillac Converj, a sleek angular luxury concept plug-in hybrid, was introduced at the 2009 Detroit Auto Show. Built on the mechanicals of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, the Cadillac Converj won rave reviews at the show. GM executives believed that a more expensive luxury model using its plug-in hybrid architecture would be easier to commercialize than the Volt. But the economics didn’t work out. By March 2010, General Motors had stopped work on the Cadillac Converj, to focus on the Volt.

The decision to drop the Cadillac Converj underscores the debate about the optimal size of the battery pack for a plug-in hybrid, and how that will affect the vehicle’s purchase price and market potential.

Saturn VUE/Buick SUV Plug-in Hybrid

SUV Plug-in Hybrid

Who is going to produce the first plug-in SUV? It looked like G.M. was way ahead in the race, when it unveiled the Saturn Vue plug-in hybrid in 2007—slating the model for production in 2010. That model became an unnamed Buick model in August 2009, but two weeks later was scrapped (at least in that form).

The plug-in Vue was going to utilize a modified version of GM's two-mode hybrid system, plug-in technology, and an advanced lithium ion battery pack—along with GM's 3.6-liter V6 gasoline engine with direct injection.

The Saturn Vue Line plug-in hybrid was expected to offer electric-only propulsion for more than 10 miles—something similar to what Ford is working on with its Escape Plug-in Hybrid. The combination of truck-like capabilities and ground-breaking reductions in fuel use could mean a big success—that is, if and when General Motors announces a firm release date.

Next On the Chopping Block?'s main cars page lists about 25 electric cars and plug-in hybrids currently slated for production. Five are concepts, and at least five more might not make it to the finish line. We’ll keep tracking to see what’s real and what’s vapor. Stay tuned.

New to EVs? Start here

  1. Seven Things To Know About Buying a Plug-In Car
    A few simple tips before you visit the dealership.
  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
    Take advantage of credits and rebates to reduce EV costs.
  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
    You'll want a home charger. Here's how to buy the right one.