Joe Yogerst 2015-09-01 02:14:53
Electric vehicles are more accessible and stylish than ever. It’s hard to believe that electric vehicles are actually nothing new. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, electric cars were all the rage, accounting for roughly one-third of automobiles on the road in major cities like New York, Chicago and Boston. Ferdinand Porsche was among those marketing an early electric car, a four-passenger vehicle called the P1 that could reach a (then) head-turning 20 mph when fully charged. When Henry Ford introduced the Model T in 1908, electric cars couldn’t compete. Gasoline was affordable and service stations were soon plentiful throughout the motoring world. By the start of World War I, electric cars had virtually disappeared. Spurred by government laws and private investment, research into a viable electric car continued for almost a century. A breakthrough came in 2006, when Tesla introduced an allelectric Roadster with a 200-mile range. Four years later, the fully electric Nissan Leaf and gaselectric hybrid Chevrolet Volt debuted. Then in 2012, Tesla launched the Model S, which became an overnight phenomenon. In the wake of these early efforts, many other automakers have plunged into electric motion. More than 20 plug-in electric models and 30 hybrid vehicles are now available in U.S. showrooms. They come in a variety of styles and sizes from the two-passenger smart electric drive and mid-sized Ford C-Max Energi to the BMW i8 luxury hybrid sports car. “With more offerings being added from competing automakers, more and more consumers are hearing about EV technology,” says Brian Brockman, senior manager of corporate communications at Nissan North America. The company has sold more than 75,000 Leafs in the U.S., almost half of them last year as sales of the compact five-door hatchback skyrocketed. “Over the longer term, that awareness should help open the market for new sales for all of us.” Karl Brauer, senior director of insights and senior editor for Kelley Blue Book, says the Fiat 500e is another intriguing electric. “Like [many] other electric vehicles it can only go 80 miles on a charge, but it has an interesting exterior style and is fun to drive,” he explains. “It also comes with one day a month (or 12 days per year) of free rental car use if you lease one. … If someone only occasionally needs a longer range, they can use a conventional car a few days here and there, for free, and still use the 500e every other day.” Despite being available only in California and Oregon at the present time, the 500e is one of the top-selling electric vehicles in the U.S., and parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles is now set to launch its second all-electric in the American market. Another European automaker making a big splash in the electric segment is BMW, which currently offers the tiny i3 and luxury i8. Experts say the i8’s low center of gravity and traction control makes for a nimble ride and, like other electrics, the i8 is exceptionally quiet compared to conventional vehicles. In deference to drivers who cherish that old-fashioned vroom, BMW has introduced a sports car vibe with recorded sounds that replicate the throttle notes of internal-combustion acceleration. Drivers also have the option of purchasing a tailor-made, four-piece Louis Vuitton i8 luggage collection. Spurred by Tesla’s success, a number of other European luxury automakers—including Audi, Land Rover, Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz—are developing battery-electric vehicles. Audi’s sleek Q6 SUV is expected to hit American showrooms in 2018 or 2019 and is expected to boast a lowslung, coupe-like design and a range of around 250 miles when fully charged. Not one to rest on his laurels, Elon Musk, Tesla’s founder and president, has the Silicon Valley automaker developing several models for different market segments. A crossover SUV called the Model X—with futuristic wing doors, all-wheel drive and three rows of seats—was originally scheduled for 2013 rollout, but the Tesla assembly has been too busy keeping up with Model S orders, and delivery of the new SUV is now slated for 2016. Although it probably won’t roll off the assembly line for another five years, Tesla is also developing the Model 3, which will feature many of the high-tech and design features found on the Model S but at around half the sticker. So maybe, this time, the electric car is here to stay. Brauer predicts that over the next half decade a number of automakers will launch a new wave of electric cars with a 200-plus mile range at affordable prices. “This combination of price and functionality might finally allow electric cars to break out of the tiny niche they have been stuck in since GM introduced the EV1 back in 1996,” he explains. “This trend should make electric vehicles profitable for mainstream automakers, which will have a paradigm shift on their market viability.” Another paradigm shift for the automobile market which could greatly enhance the appeal of electric cars is the introduction of autonomous driving technology over the next decade. “Electric cars will likely be the first candidates to incorporate fully autonomous driving modes,” Brauer says. “It will be a very exciting, and disruptive, time for the auto industry.”
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