US electric car market full of spark

2012-07-08 22:36
Tesla Model S (Supplied)

Tesla Model S (Supplied)

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Detroit - The US market for all-electric cars is charging up, with plug-in vehicles rolling off US dealer lots despite much higher costs, battery fire scares and falling fuel prices.

Plug-in cars racked up strong sales in the first six months of the year, car makers said, even with their tall sticker prices and lifetime operating costs up to $6 000 more than conventional fuel-run vehicles.

General Motors reported it sold more of its $39 000 Chevrolet Volts in the first six months than it did in all of last year, with 1 760 of the cars delivered to buyers in June.

Toyota said it has sold over 4 300 of its all-electric version of the popular Prius hybrid since it launched the model in March - even though the plug-in Prius costs, at the $32 000 base price, a third more than the cheapest hybrid Prius.

Sales of Nissan's $35 000 Leaf, one of the first to plumb American drivers' desire for plug-ins, eased slightly amid higher competition and a change in distribution strategy, but still hit more than 3 148 units.

The drop owed mainly to the Leaf not having completed the move from its original web-driven, built-to-order system to more of a traditional dealer-based model, said Nissan spokesperson Brian Brockman.

At the high end of the car market, sales of electrics are full of spark as well.

Fisker Automotive said it has sold more than 1 000 of its $105 000 luxury plug-in sports car, the Karma, since the start of the year.

And the waiting list for the Tesla Model S, billed as "the world's first premium electric sedan," numbered about 10 000 when it released the first cars on 22 June.
Reserving one of the cars - base price $50 000 - required a $5 000 deposit.

Buyers appear to be rejecting any hints that the vehicles might have a downside.

Reports of battery fires have hampered the launches of the Volt, Karma and models from BYD, the Chinese company aiming at an exclusively electric vehicle business.

Those worries are being addressed, builders say, and battery specialists are improving their fuel cell technology.

A123 Systems of Massachusetts recently disclosed it had come up with a technology to eliminate the threat of fire in high-tech lithium batteries.

Still, there is also the cost. The cars themselves are pricey compared to their internal-combustion engine cousins and fuel prices have fallen, lessening the incentive to switch to an all-electric vehicle.

All told, electric passenger cars currently cost $5 000 to $6 000 more to their owners than an equivalent fossil fuel car over the vehicle's lifetime, according to a new study by the Paris-based International Transport Forum.

"The current generation of electric cars represents a significant improvement over previous ones. Nonetheless, electric vehicles remain more expensive than their fossil-fuelled equivalents and may need government assistance to trigger wide-spread uptake," the study said.

Read more on:    toyota  |  nissan  |  gm  |  us  |  environment  |  technology  |  renewable energy  |  electricity

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