Are the bells tolling for the EV industry just a few years into an electric car revival? International news outlet Reuters seems to think so, noting that lack of consumer interest and sales seems to be hurting electrification efforts, and major automakers are shifting strategies. But they fail to note that this time, electric vehicles seem to be here to stay unlike other short-lived efforts.
Reuters names the usual suspects when it comes to lackluster EV sales; price, range anxiety, and a lack of infrastructure. Nissan Leaf sales have been flat, and while the Chevy Volt is seeing increased sales, other green car makers like Coda and Fisker seem to be on the ropes. Ford and Mitsubishi each only sold a few hundred of their respective EVs.
Nissan is starting to shift away from pure electric vehicles, partnering with Ford and Mercedes on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Toyota is broadening its hybrid vehicle and hydrogen fuel cell efforts as well, while BMW, Audi, and Mercedes all seem on the fence when it comes to pure electric vehicles. Tesla Motors appears to be the lone bright spot, with a waiting list months long for a pure electric sports car with a starting price of more than $50,000.
But while the Reuters piece seems ready to bury the pure electric car, this time things are different. While EV sales are far from impressive, these vehicles have found a small-but-dedicated crowd among early adopters. Nissan has already trimmed the price of the 2013 Leaf by $6,400 by moving operations to America, and Smart has plans to sell a ForTwo Electric Drive that can be had, after tax incentives, for under $20,000. Round one of the limited-use, very expensive EVs hasn’t gone down so well, but the next round with more range, a lower price, and a wider selection may be a remedy for these early fumbles.
Tesla Motors is proof that people are willing to pay a premium for the right electric car. For some reason, none of the major automakers managed to find that same balance of luxury, performance, and price the Elon Musk’s Model S has. Even with the factory at full production, backorders for the Model S reach into the months right now. Meanwhile all the major carmakers are fighting over the low-profit, economy end of the electric car market. Tesla Motors meanwhile is starting with lower-volume, higher-profit models and working its way down.
Some automakers, including Mercedes and Audi, are dropping their “affordable” efforts and are going after ultra-luxury vehicles with six-figure price tags. That also is probably the wrong approach, as the number of buyers who can afford such vehicles are far, far fewer than those who can afford a fully maxed-out Model S, which can be had for a shade under $100,000.
How all these automakers missed that pricing sweet spot that Tesla nailed, we may never know. But we’re not ready to bury the EV, not by a long shot. This time, they’re here to stay in one form or another. They may not conquer the world now or ever, but I’ve always liked having more than one option. Given a few generations to mature, we may one day be buying EVs alongside with gas, diesel, and hybrid cars. The death of the pure electric car has been sorely exaggerated.