Despite gas prices edging up ever higher, there seems to be a marked reluctance on the part of ordinary drivers to give up their gas power. It seems the idea of the freedom of the road is built into the American psyche just like the apple pie you pick up at diners on your journeys. For now, this means the internal combustion engine continues to rule even though there’s increasing evidence the supply of oil is slowly coming to an end. So why should we all be rushing to buy electric?
Well, if you believe the stories about climate change, an electric car has zero emissions and the running costs are a fraction those of a conventionally powered car. For the record, the cost of recharging the battery is about the same as buying a pint of milk. But they are more expensive than gas-powered cars and, in many cases, they will not reach high speeds (or, if they do, it empties the battery quickly). The mileage per charge is also comparatively low as against a tank of gas and it can be time-consuming to recharge. Without charging stations at frequent intervals on highways, there’s no way to recharge. In this, it should be possible to exchange empty batteries for full batteries for a fast turnaround. Until these infrastructure issues are solved, electric cars are not going to sell in numbers.
The result is very low sales. The Israeli Better Place is the latest manufacturer to fail. Despite building a significant number of stations where drivers could replace their batteries on longer journeys, it has failed to sell enough vehicles to make it economic to continue. For the record, it has burned through about $1 billion dollars in its start-up effort. CODA Holdings estimated it would sell up to 14,000 vehicles in its first year of operation. Sadly, it only managed 100 and it has filed for bankruptcy. It will probably abandon its efforts to sell electric cars. Tesla Motors has been selling about 4,500 Model S vehicles at $70,000 a shot and, for now, appears to be viable. This is rather more encouraging than Fisker Automotive whose Karma sells for $100,000. Since their battery supplier disappeared into bankruptcy protection, this manufacturer has not managed to sell a single vehicle.
Over in China, there’s BYD which reports sales of 1,700 in the last year of operation but it expects to triple that in the current year. This leaves us with the only genuinely successful electric car: the Nisan Leaf. In America, this sells for $21,300 allowing for the rebate which makes it very competitive in terms of price. Even more impressively, the model was launched in December 2010 and has sold more than 62,000 units since that time. If any manufacturer is capable of bringing a low-price high volume car to the American market, it will be Nisan. The company seems to have enjoyed a magic touch in the small car market.