As we rapidly approach the end of 2010, there are only two mainstream electric cars stealing the limelight -- the 2011 Nissan Leaf and the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. But although the choices are small now, in a few years’ time there will be a veritable cornucopia of all-electric, plug-in hybrid and range-extended electric cars for a consumer to choose from. It's too soon to say for sure when exactly these cars will be available. But we're estimating sometime between 2011 and 2012. Here are 10 that are likely to roll down the road in the next couple of years.
2012 Mitsubishi i-Miev (U.S. Spec)
The Japanese like small cars and nothing quite says small car like the diminutive Mitsubishi i-Miev. Originally sold in Japan as a gasoline-powered car small enough to satisfy exceptions to strict parking laws, the i looks like a little bubble on wheels. The original i-Miev was converted into an all-electric car by Mitsubishi, and is already being sold in Japan. The next market is Europe, where it will be sold both as a Mitsubishi and a rebadged Peugeot and Citroen. Still rather squat, the car is due to go through some serious redesigns to make it more suited to the U.S. market. Expect a fatter, safer version of this Japanese car to go on sale late in 2011.
2012 Toyota Plug-in Prius
For some time the Toyota Prius has been the eco-car of choice for A-list celebrities, green advocates and geeks. But the high-mpg car is about to get an extra trick in 2011 with the addition of a plug-in option, allowing for all-electric driving around town and an even higher fuel economy. Expect the price of the 2012 Toyota Prius to be comparable in price to Chevrolet’s 2011 Volt. If you drive long distances but want the benefit of the occasional electric driving, perhaps this is the car for you.
2012 Ford Focus Electric
Ford plans to introduce a production version of the electric Ford Focus made famous by Jay Leno's Green Car Challenge in 2011. Offering a 100-mile range, classic looks and a 110V convenience charging option, expect the 2012 Ford Focus Electric to have plenty of customers when it launches.
2012 Tesla Model S
We couldn’t write about ten upcoming plug-in cars without talking about the seven-seat Tesla. Priced at the upper end of the luxury sedan market, the all-electric Sedan features a claimed 300-mile range per charge. But it won’t come cheap. Or at least, it will cost more than the 2011 Chevrolet Volt or 2011 Nissan Leaf. Tesla draws on all of its expertise from building the Roadster, and is confident that it will have the best battery system and drive train on the market. The Tesla Model S will accelerate to 60 mph in under six seconds, providing it with Mercedes-like performance, but zero tailpipe emissions. However, Tesla has yet to announce a launch date or a final price, so you may have a long wait before owning one.
2012 Toyota Rav4 EV
If you've kept up with electric car news over the years, then no doubt you’ve heard of the Toyota RAV4 EV, made between 1998 and 2003. It was the subject of the docufilm, "Who Killed The Electric Car." Many electric car fans consider the RAV4 EV to be one of the best electric cars made in the last ten years, and many originals still exist in the U.S. today. Toyota stopped making electric cars some time ago, but that’s all set to change thanks to a partnership with Tesla Motors. Tesla and Toyota’s collaborative efforts will be unveiled in the form of an all-electric SUV crossover at the 2010 L.A. MotorShow in a few weeks’ time.
2012 BMW Active E
BMW’s newest vehicle to the ongoing electric test-fleet is the Active E. Based on a BMW 1-series, the all-electric car features a thermally regulated lithium-ion battery pack, 7 cubic feet of trunk space and enough power from its 125-kilowatt (170-horsepower) rear-wheel drive motor to take it from 0-60 in around 8.5 seconds. If you want to drive one of the 450 vehicles due to be made, you’ll need to live in one of BMW’s test-fleet areas in California, New York, Boston or Connecticut. In addition, expect a hefty lease fee every month, participation in BMW’s customer testing program and be ready to part with the car after two years.
2012 Chevrolet Cruze EV
General Motors hasn’t hidden the fact that while it readies the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, which has a small gas engine that kicks into charge the battery, it's also working hard on an all-electric car. Currently in testing in South Korea, the all-electric Chevy Cruze features a 102.5 mph top speed, a 100-mile range and a 33-killowatt-hour battery pack. Although we’re unlikely to see a commercial version of the electric Cruze in the United States any time in the next few months, we have hopes that Chevrolet is working on an all-electric version of the Volt. We'll keep our eyes out for one.
2012 Audi A1 e-tron
The Audi A1 e-tron could prove an interesting competitor to the 2011 Chevrolet Volt. Using a small, single-rotor Wankel rotary engine, the 2012 Audi A1 e-tron can drive for 30 miles or so in city traffic before its range extender kicks in to provide an assisted range of 124 miles beyond that of the all-electric drive train. While current plans exist to run the A1 e-tron as part of a test fleet, we have yet to hear when, or even if, it will reach production. A test fleet is set to be released in Munich, Germany in 2011.
2012 Saab 9-3 ePower
Powered by a 35.5 kilowatt-hour battery pack and built to withstand temperatures as cold as -22 degrees Farenheit (-30 degrees Celcius), the Saab 9-3 ePower offers to be another option for those wanting a high-quality, all-electric car. It's being built in small numbers for a 2011-12 test fleet in Sweden that Saab aims to use to use to eventually produce a production version. In keeping with other vehicles in the market, the range of 124 miles gives the 9-3 ePower a slight advantage over the 2011 Nissan Leaf when it comes to range-per charge.
2012 Hyundai CUV
Electric vehicles are a little on the small side and tend to lack much in the way of height or presence in the urban jungle. Enter the as-yet unnamed 2012 Hyundai CUV. While details are sketchy at the moment, expect the South Korean auto-maker to produce an 80-mile per charge EV based on the popular Tuscon platform.
The new all-electric Tesla S sedan is not just the favorite of car magazines, now Consumer Reports calls it the best car they’ve ever driven, scoring 99 points of 100 and beating out the Lexus LS460 that held the previous record back in 2007. What does this massive battery-powered EV have that no others do?
“It handles like a sports car, it rides like a luxury car, it has the energy efficiency that is twice as good as the best hybrids and is the quietest car we’ve ever tested,” said CR tester Gabe Shenhar. “It does so many things so right on so many levels that to us it wasn’t a surprise.”
Perhaps that’s why Tesla Motors has sold more cars during the first quarter of 2013 than luxury German automakers, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi, prompting the Palo Alto-based firm to declare its first-ever profit and raise expected sales for 2013 from 20,000 to 21,000.
Shenhar said that Tesla started from scratch. It engineered an electric vehicle around a larger battery that gives it a range of more than 200 miles (265 miles with the upgraded 85 kilowatt/hr lithium-ion battery). All other EVs -- such as the Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus, Honda Fit -- can only travel 60 to 80 miles before charging up. The closest competitor is the Toyota Rav 4 EV with a 103 mile range, according to the Department of Energy.
Tesla has also installed its own network of super-fast chargers along the East Coast corridor between Washington and Boston, as well as in California. It gives drivers in these areas the advantage of a 30 minute charge, instead of a six-hour overnight fill up at home.
Consumer Reports magazine said driving a Tesla S “is like crossing into a promising zero-emissions future. ... It's what Marty McFly might have brought back in place of his DeLorean in 'Back to the Future.'"
The Tesla far outscored competitors in its Luxury sedan category -- the gas-powered Porsche Panamera (84 points) and plug-in Karma (57) from financially troubled startup Fisker.
Shenhar said the Tesla’s range, while leagues above its EV competitors, still has to ease the “range anxiety” for drivers used to going 400 to 500 miles on a tank of gas.
“You can’t drive from here to Ohio and fill up anywhere you want in three minutes,” he said from Consumer Reports test facility in Colchester, Conn.
The testers also noted that the Tesla doesn’t have much of a track record yet for reliability or resale value. And while ordering a vehicle online may seem pretty cool -- bypassing pesky car salesmen at a dealership -- getting repairs, service and complex software updates to the EV’s electronic brain can be a headache, at least according to posts made by owners on Tesla club blogs.
But some of those drawbacks are made up for in the hi-tech features: smart phone connectivity that allows you to remotely control charging levels; a 17-inch video display that gives navigation info as well as monitoring battery levels, and a built-in media player and internet browser. The Tesla S also has a surprise: more space. Since there’s no engine to speak of, there’s an extra luggage compartment in the front as well as a extra jumpseat in the rear, just like an old-fashioned station wagon.
Shenhar said he believes other car manufacturers are watching the success of the Tesla with envy.
Clearly every automaker in the world is looking at the Tesla model S and seeing how they can learn from this and break from conventions,” he added.
For the electric vehicle industry as a whole, the success of the Tesla may rub off less-expensive models that appeal to the rest of us, according to Genevieve Cullen, vice president of the Electric Drive Vehicle Association, a Washington-based trade group.
“It’s a rising tide,” Cullen said. “They are showing that you can start a new car company in this day and age and tinker with the business model and come up with a great car. What it shows for the industry that this is a diverse market where there is demand in a lot of all segments.”
If you can’t afford an $89,650 Tesla S, you can always try Las Vegas, where a car-sharing service announced last month that it plans to purchase 100 of the sleek EVs and allow subscribers to run errands in style.