Modern Electric Cars, Three Years Later: Lessons Learned
Three years ago yesterday, the first retail buyer of a brand-new Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car was handed his keys in Denville, New Jersey.
Just three days earlier, the first Nissan Leaf buyer had received his battery-electric car in a large ceremony at San Francisco's City Hall.
Together, Jeffrey Kaffee and Olivier Chalouhi became the first of roughly 160,000 U.S. drivers to date who have bought modern, mass-market plug-in electric cars.
2013 Nissan Leaf, Nashville area test drive, April 2013
A lot has happened since then.
No fewer than 15 different cars that plug in are now on sale in parts of the U.S., with more on the way.
The three electric cars selling at the highest rates have remained the same for 18 months; they are the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S.
A fourth car, the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid, sells at a slightly lower average rate but has been on the market longer than the Model S, so its total sales are higher at the moment.
Each of those models has seen sales of 20,000 to 50,000 units in the U.S.; every other plug-in car has sold less than 10,000 units.
The Nissan Leaf is now assembled in Tennessee, with production ramping up, courtesy of a Department of Energy loan that Nissan is paying back.
The Voltec powertrain in the Chevrolet Volt has spawned another model, the 2014 Cadillac ELR, which goes on sale next month.
2014 Cadillac ELR revealed at 2013 Detroit Auto Show
And the Tesla Model S, the longest-range battery-electric car in the world today, has turned out to be a sleek, elegant, reliable, and desirable luxury sport sedan from the company many doubted could manage to put such a car into production.
After three years and 160,000-odd cars, both buyers and carmakers know somewhat more about plug-in cars than they did at the start.
Here are a few thoughts on what automakers, buyers, drivers, and even the media have learned--or should have--during those years.
(1) There is no one electric-car buyer
Research done several years ago at the University of California-Davis identified at least four different motivations that would lead someone to consider buying a plug-in car, whether all-electric or a plug-in hybrid.
They were the desire to be the earliest adopter of cool new technology, desire for a greener and zero-emission vehicle, concern over U.S. energy security, and the potential for lower lifetime costs.