Electric Cars for Everyone

As electric vehicle rollout begins, there will be styles and models to suit nearly every car buyer—from affordable, compact economy cars to high-powered sports cars heavy on sex appeal.


This is a relative term with EVs, since the starting point is likely to be $30,000. But the incentives sweeten the deal, as do operating costs of two cents a mile, versus up to a quarter for gas cars. The cheapest options will be two-seat city cars from Think, Wheego and Smart. All have approximately 100-mile range, relatively easy home charging and some interactivity with the grid. They will also appear relatively Spartan to today’s pampered auto consumer, because EVs tend to be somewhat stripped down to save weight. Many will come with only bare-bones extras, like power windows, a CD player and air conditioning—not the power seats, built-in TVs and other niceties we’ve grown accustomed to.


There are basically two, the Tesla Roadster, one of the most exciting cars to drive with a zero-to-60 time of 3.9 seconds, and the Fisker Karma, a visually stunning $87,900 plug-in hybrid from designer Henrik Fisker that nobody’s yet driven. The Fisker, whose debut has been shrouded in secrecy, promises to be almost as fast, reaching 62 mph in six seconds. The fast cars get a lot of attention, but Tesla (the Model S) and Fisker (Project Nina) are working on more affordable and conventional models. “It’s exciting,” says Tesla CEO Elon Musk. “We’re building an American brand.”


The two you”ll hear about (because the companies can afford to advertise) are the $32,780 Nissan Leaf, a smartly styled five-seat battery sedan, and the Chevrolet Volt, a four-seat plug-in hybrid. The Leaf, built in Japan initially with production moving to Tennessee in 2012, will probably be the biggest EV seller because of the brand’s familiarity and dealer network. From early test drives, it also promises to be a zippy performer. The Volt is a gamble for General Motors, and far different from anything else the company’s built. GM is proceeding cautiously, initially marketing the Volt only in states like California, Michigan and Washington, D.C., where it thinks a friendly reception is assured. The complex Volt will probably cost $7,000 or $8,000 more than the Leaf, but it will also have an additional 250 miles of range.

A third choice is the Coda sedan, a repurposed Chinese-made car with some impressive American engineering. Coda CEO Kevin Czinger, formerly of Goldman Sachs, says the start-up companies have the edge in EV technology because they’re small and nimble. But Pitt Moos, the product manager of the electric-drive Smart, suggests the opposite—that only the established companies have the resources to build electric cars that meet the needs of demanding consumers.