The Electric Slide

Nov 9, 2009

I don’t know how many electric or hybrid electric or plug-in hybrid electric vehicles we’ll see at SEMA 2009. Few, likely, compared to straight internal combustion vehicles. There just isn’t the big business, especially on the restyling side, to warrant it. Yet.

But I like to be forward-thinking about how many we might see next year. Maybe just a few? Or a few more? Certainly, they’ll be well represented at the various big car shows throughout 2010. And by 2011?

As quickly as automakers are designing EVs, HEVs and PHEVs, and already selling or readying production models for the general public, it’s dizzying to think that a year or two ago electric vehicles populated the realm of drawing boards and concept cars, the hopeful minds of the eco-conscious and the near-singular reality of golf carts. Yes, there was GM’s EV1, the first mass-produced electric car that came and went from 1996-1999 as GM tried to present a zero-emission car to satisfy a California mandate. Despite the EV1’s generally positive reception by its lessee-drivers (the cars weren’t available for sale), GM put an end to it, citing its unprofitability in leasing only about 800 of them at a production cost of $1 billion.

Nowadays, though, they’re a reality, driven as much by ingenuity as government mandates. How quickly, how very quickly, these new types of vehicles are becoming reality.

GM, the “old” GM, may have killed the EV1, but technology has changed enough that battery-ized vehicles with mileage ranges growing every month, it seems, will ride the roads next year and beyond.

If you’ve been following the news in the automotive world you’d see a noticeable amount of press given to EVs, HEVs and PHEVs. And if you’ve been following Restyling magazine and, especially, Restyling’s “This Week” website news section over the past many months, you’d be getting a good look into what so many auto manufacturers and suppliers (some you’ve never heard of) have been doing as they rush forward to meet not just government standards, but growing consumer interest that could turn into demand. Consider these:

  • 48% of U.S. drivers say they’d consider buying a PHEV, even with just a 40-mile single-charge range.
  • The federal government has been handing out millions of dollars from a $2.4 billion pot to assorted vehicle and vehicle parts makers to produce such alternative engines as those for electric-driven passenger cars and light trucks: Ford, Fisker and Tesla automakers are just some examples of recipients. Michigan-based Compact Power Inc. received more than $151 million to finance its electric battery plant to shift production from Asia to the U.S.
  • Chevy plans to roll out its PHEV Volt in late 2010, already with claims that the car could go up to 230 in-city miles driving on a single charge.
  • Nissan is readying its LEAF for a late-2010 release, with claims of 327 in-city miles, based on the same testing GM used.
  • Volvo plans a 2012 PHEV that, combined with a diesel engine, it claims has a range of 745 miles.
  • Tesla has been selling its high-end models already, and plans to introduce a more-popular-priced $45,000 sedan.
  • Fisker’s 403-hp prototype PHEV, the Karma, used no gas while hitting a speed of 100 mph; it’s to have a 50-mile all-electric and 300-mile electric/gasoline range.
  • Coda plans to bring in its Chinese-built five-passenger electric sedan next year.
  • Even an Orange County, Calif. company, Jungle Motors, provides PHEV conversion kits for the Prius hybrid.
  • And while not yet commonplace, but certainly growing, self-serve fast-charge electric stations are being constructed nationwide so an infrastructure serving the electric-vehicle market exists.

All this is not to say that battery-cars necessarily will rule the future; I don’t know that, having lived in an internal-combustion-engine world all my life. But I do know that technology coupled with discovery and drive will, should, change the machines we use to go from here to there.