Electric vehicles have certainly slid from their peak of prominence at the 2010 NAIAS, but they hold a place in the overall automotive fleet that will only continue to grow. Whether or not they are going to replace the internal combustion engine is a separate debate that I don't propose to weigh in on here.
As I noted in my first article about this year's Detroit Auto Show, some kind of hybrid or EV seems to be a part of having a complete line for all the major car makers. More Priuses from Toyota, the VW E-Bugster concept, Ford's C-Max and hybrid and EV Fusion models, and other examples all add to the fleet of electric vehicles available.
In addition to the big manufacturers, there were three companies dedicated to electric drive vehicles that were on the main floor this year: Tesla, Coda, and VIA (more about these forthcoming). AMP Motors also had two vehicles on the lower level Ride & Drive track, and is exhibiting in the Concourse during the Public Show period.
While many small companies had a main floor presence with the 'Electric Avenue' that was part of the 2010 show, those three companies were there with freestanding displays, rather than just being part of a specialty side show. (By my count there are 37 nameplates on the main floor, so, by that measure, EVs are approaching 10 percent of the brands showing at NAIAS; it doesn't mean anywhere near that number of EVs are in the global fleet, but I think it does indicate that they are a growing presence in the market.)
Straight electric vehicles are still expensive to buy, and though those costs will come down, they are going to remain a barrier for many buyers. Extended-range electric vehicles offer short-range all-electric drive and plug-in economy along with range flexibility of a liquid-fueled vehicle. All-electric EVs have limitations, and aren't suitable for every driver, but neither tiny subcompacts nor monster SUVs meet every need, either. All vehicle choices include tradeoffs, and for some drivers' needs, all electric vehicles are a viable solution.
Cold weather, which has been a concern for EVs in general, seems to be starting to be addressed (after all, some EVs are going to be driven in parts of the US other than the Southwest). The newer Nissan LEAF will have seat warmers and steering wheel warmers, which will cut into the overall driving range, but will make it more comfortable to drive on cold days.
Maintenance is another factor that many electric drive companies are starting to discuss. Electric motors need much less maintenance than ICE engines, and the reduced maintenance costs will be another factor that will more readily be figured into the consumer economics of total EV ownership cost.
Lastly, if you haven't seen them already, shortly before this year's NAIAS, there was a discussion about electric vehicles between Joel Johnson's You Are Not Alone. America Hates Electric Cars (Jalopnik) and Maggie Koerth-Baker's Hey, electric cars don't totally suck: A realistic sort-of rebuttal (BoingBoing). There are good points made in both articles, and those with a strong opinion on the subject may be interested in reading these two articles as well.
written by Dan, January 18, 2012
written by Bill Williams, January 20, 2012
written by Larry Leichtman, January 26, 2012
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