For Most of U.S., Electric Cars Still a Waiting Game

By · April 11, 2011

Wheego in Parking Lot

For California and other EV hot spots, the EV revolution is underway. But in most U.S. markets, customers can only buy niche low-speed electric cars, or wait for mass-produced electric cars from major automakers to arrive in a year or two.

The number of electric cars hitting U.S. roads every month will soon be measured in the thousands. Yet, for some time, most deliveries will be made in key roll-out markets mostly on the coasts. That leaves customers in the majority of the country only to read about the EV revolution from a distance—as they wait a year or longer for the Chevy Volt, Nissan LEAF, or Ford Focus Electric to reach a local dealership.

Tampa Bay, Florida, is a good example. The Tampa Tribune last week reported on the local nascent electric car market in Florida’s third largest city.

Nissan LEAF – Florida dealers won’t have any LEAFs for about a year, as Nissan feverishly works to deliver its 20,000 pre-orders in California, Oregon, Arizona, Washington State, Tennessee, Texas and Hawaii. "We'd love to have them," said Ed Palaez, general manager of Ferman Nissan, in an interview with The Tampa Tribune. The dealership has already installed charging stations, but as Palaez said, "We don't expect to have them anytime soon."

Chevy Volt – The situation is not much different for Volt hopefuls in the Sunshine State. After all, General Motors has been promoting the car for years, but will make just 10,000 Volts in Year One. According to G.M., Florida dealers might start receiving Volts in the fall, but customers will need to quickly get their name on a waiting list, with a realistic delivery date of early 2011. For now, the Volt is only selling in California, Texas, Michigan, Washington D.C., New York, Connecticut and New Jersey. The high demand and low supply has meant dealership markups of $5,000 or more for Volt as well as LEAF (although the premium is only added to the LEAF when a potential customer chooses not to complete a pre-order).

Ford Focus Electric – The delivery locations for the first EVs is a crazy quilt. For example, Focus Electric is coming to 19 markets in late 2011—with Orlando making the list, but Tampa off the list. According to the Tampa Tribune, local dealers were curiously told that's partly because Tampa infrastructure is not as ready as Orlando’s.

Opportunity for Niche Players

For EV-intenders in parts of the country that won’t get a shipment until 2012 or beyond, the choice is to either spend big money on a niche luxury maker, such as Tesla or Fisker, or go with true newcomers like Wheego. (The Tampa Tribune didn’t mention availability of the Smart ED, which officially is on sale throughout the U.S.)

Tesla Motors operates a dealership in Miami area—nearly 300 miles to the south of Tampa—where well-heeled buyers can buy a $109,000 Tesla Roadster or a $57,000 Model S (when it arrives sometime in 2012).

Meanwhile, Tampa-based Elder Automotive Group is taking $5,000 deposits for the Fisker Karma. Rob Elder, the dealership’s owner, is confident that Fisker will deliver in decent quantities this year. "We'll easily deliver 100 Fiskers this year," Elder told the Tampa Tribune. "And next year probably more than 120."

Suncoast Electric Vehicles dealership in St. Petersburg is reportedly now selling a neighborhood electric version of the Smart-like all-electric Wheego, and will add the highway capable version in late April—for $32,900, nearly the same price as the larger and more capable Nissan LEAF.

Do you live in an “off-market?” Tell us what you know about when electric cars are coming to your city.

New to EVs? Start here

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