Broader View Of

The discussion profits from a broader definition of the term "EV." And, in fact, the Promoting Electric Vehicle Act pertains to any "grid-enabled plug-in" vehicle. Here, though, let's have our alphabetical array include everything from conventional hybrids (HEVs) to plugin hybrids (PHEVs) to battery electrics (BEVs) to fuel-cell electrics (FCEVs).

Each of these involves electrical propulsion; each has its own unique set of operational characteristics, inherent challenges and potential appeal.

For example, BEVs arc the most independent of fossil fuel. But don't forget the clcctric utility and its fuel sources. Also, note that BEVs have yet to prove their consumer appeal in extremes of climate. Will Duluth or Las Vegas be among those initial deployment communities? And if not, why would the entire country be expected to support what may ultimately be only niche markets? At opposite ends of the EV spectrum, both HEVs and FCEVs appear to handle temperature extremes just fine; the latter, albeit with other significant challenges of infrastructure.

AUTOMAKERS' RESPONSES

Add to the lure of government money the laudable capitalist motive of profitseeking. Plenty of people have formulated EV responses—many of them serious, others bordering on outright scams.

How to recognize the scams? They'll have a slick website, play up a search for dealers but never return calls when asked about matters of U.S. certification. Note, it's a real challenge to start with a car not designed for our market, electrified or not, and get it through the complex collection of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

Ask the good folks of Tesla about the seemingly straightforward task of electrifying the Lotus Elise, a car already available in the U.S. Having worked diligently to gain full FMVSS compliance, the company has now sold more than 1000 of its SIOOK-plus high-performance Roadsters and has plans to introduce its S50K Model S sedan sometime in 2012. Both are BEVs.

Ask Coda. This California startup has committed extensive resources to federalizing its Chinese-sourced Hafei Saibao platform. And after several years' development the Coda is coming to market in 2011 as a compact $40K BEV sedan.

Ask Henrik Fisker. He certainly knows his way around automotive design, and his company's S87K Karma promises high performance and luxury in a PHEV package satisfying all relevant regulations. Akin to the Tesla business model, Fisker also has plans for a second car, this one a mid-priced PHEV built at the company's ex-Saturn facility in Delaware.

And, of course, established automakers have EVs close to production as well. The $4IK Chevrolet Volt PHEV and S33K Nissan Leaf BEV both come to market literally any day now. Nissan's Carlos Ghosn is particularly passionate in stating his goal of making the company preeminent among EV manufacturers. Our brief drive of the Leaf certainly indicates Nissan is off to an excellent start (see blog. roadandtrack.com/nissan-lcaf-practical-modern-and-electric/).

Other automakers expressing near-term EV plans include Audi (the e-Tron is anticipated in a year or so), BMW (its Mini E is already in demonstration fleets), Mercedes and Porsche.

I've driven the Mercedes/Smart electric (see "Tech Tidbits," March 2010) and actually prefer this version to its gasoline counterpart. And Ian Adcock's brief drive of the Mercedes SLS AMG E-Ccll (see roadandtrack.com/e-cell) has us all primed for the production machine coming in late 2012.

ENTHUSIASTS FIT IN JUST FINE, THANKS

There's wonderful irony here: Based on our collective experience with EVs in this broadest sense, I see an enthusiast's future that actually looks brighter than any near-term goal of converting our national fleet. First, despite our preference for occasional whiffs of pure hydrocarbon, enthusiasts have always had efficiency as a significant metric of their cars. And, by many measures, various forms of EVs make for highly efficient mobility. Second, enthusiasts tend to be well informed about

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