Electric Vehicles Enter the Main Line
Menu of choices for consumers grows; By Mark Vaughn
When we went to an earlier running of the Electric Vehicle Symposium in 1994, it was held in a parking lot outside Disneyland, a transportation fantasy held in Fantasyland. There were more than a few shady characters in attendance at that one, too, seeking financial backing, and several companies based in Florida that promised the moon on 24 kilowatt-hours.
None of those companies ever made it to the moon, and that first lead-acid EV wave ultimately washed out. But 18 years and another ZEV mandate later, EVS, the Electric Vehicle Symposium, is still around. This time, EVS26 was held at the Los Angeles Convention Center--same location as the Los Angeles auto show--and the companies and people in attendance included many names you've heard of and some that you will hear of soon.
While Honda, Nissan, Infiniti, General Motors, Lotus, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi and Volkswagen were all present showing off their entries in the EV parade, Toyota chose EVS26 to make a world debut of a production car, the RAV4 EV. Toyota even brought executives from powertrain partner Tesla to the show to explain details of the new SUV.
The RAV4 EV has a fairly large 41.8-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack, which pulls its 4,032-pound self to 60 mph in 7.0 seconds in sport mode. Range is listed at 100 miles, but with almost 42 kilowatt-hours of battery it'll go farther than that. The SUV goes on sale in late summer for $50,610 through select dealers in Sacramento, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego.
"Turn off the traction control and you can chirp the front tires easily," enthused Toyota U.S. sales chief Bob Carter.
Other carmakers brought EVs or cars that included electric drive that they'd debuted elsewhere, including the Honda Fit EV (leases available starting in late July), the Nissan Leaf, the Infiniti LE (on sale in 2014, shown at EVS26 with inductive charging), General Motors' Chevrolet Volt, the Mercedes-Benz B-class F-Cell, the Mitsubishi i, the Lotus 414e concept hybrid Evora and the Volkswagen E-Golf and E-Up (we will get the E-Golf but the E-Up is Europe-only).
Coda was offering drives of its all-electric sedan, which is on sale now, and BYD let attendees drive its e6 SUV EV, which will go into fleets this year and into private hands next year.
There are still some things to be sorted out. For instance, what connector should everybody use for those massively expensive but powerful Level III chargers? Japanese manufacturers say to use their CHAdeMO standard while U.S. and European makes favor the SAE standard. And what about those inductive chargers, the doormat-size plates on or under your garage floor that you park on top of that then charge your car wirelessly? Qualcomm, Delphi and a few other makers are working on them while SAE is working on some standards for everyone to follow in building them. It'll be at least three more years before those enter the market.
But they will enter the market, as will all of the above and more. There is a wide variety of these cars now, most of them just as competent, comfortable and affordable as any other car on the market. There are limitations to electric vehicles, but there are limitations to dually pickups and two-seat sports cars, too.
Unlike 20 years ago when carmakers kicked and screamed the whole way to the showroom and then rolled over and died, there seems to be no whining this time around. This time, if EVs flop, it won't be the EVs' fault.
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