Only a few years ago, the family of electric cars that qualified as even limited-run mass production was nonexistent. Now, that family is multiplying, spurred in part by California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. That law requires manufacturers who sell over 10,000 vehicles per year in the Golden State to collectively put at least 7,500 ZEVs on the road between 2012 and 2014.
If a car company can’t meet its share of the target, it can purchase credits for selling electric cars from another firm. This ZEV credit scheme is a boon to start-ups such as Tesla, a company not bound by the law because its sales are still small but which can bolster its income by selling ZEV credits to established automakers who have to comply with the mandate.
Car companies whose sales are above the 10,000 vehicle per year threshold include Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Ford, GM, and Chrysler. Nissan already satisfies this requirement with its all electric Leaf but the mandate has prompted the others to come up with some creative, limited run EVs. Smart, a subsidiary of Mercedes Benz, also fields a low-volume electric variant of its Fortwo coupe that we’ve included in this field of contenders.
In contrast to the clean-sheet designs of the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S, the limited-run EVs covered here are converted versions of gasoline cars. As a result, space is compromised in many of these models, with battery packs filling up the trucks while the engine bays are occupied with motors and power electronics. This crop of vehicles also displays a much larger spread in price, range and performance than we’ve seen in previous groupings of similar vehicles.
|Make and Model||$MSRP||Specs||City / Hwy / Comb|
|Smart Fortwo EV||25,000||74 hp / 96 ft-lb electric motor,|
68 mile range
|93 / 107 / 138|
|Chevrolet Spark EV||27,495||130 hp / 400 ft-lb electric motor,|
82 mile range
|128 / 109 / 119|
|Fiat 500e||32,600||111 hp / 147 ft-lb electric motor,|
87 mile range
|122 / 108 / 116|
|Honda Fit EV||37,145||123 hp / 189 ft-lb electric motor,|
82 mile range
|132 / 105 / 118|
|Ford Focus Electric||39,995||143 hp / 184 ft-lb electric motor,|
76 mile range
|110 / 99 / 105|
|Toyota RAV4 EV||50,645||154 hp / 273 ft-lb electric motor,|
103 mile range
|78 / 74 / 76|
eRatings. The Smart Fortwo EV earns first place with an eRating of 277, surpassing the Mitsubishi i-MiEV to take top honors as the highest placing vehicle scored by AutoEcoRating to date. The Fortwo is the also smallest and lightest of the bunch, tipping the scales at just under 2000 lbs and achieving a combined efficiency of 107 mpge.
Just behind the Fortwo are the Chevy Spark EV, Fiat 500e, and Honda Fit EV, who score between 267 and 274. These cars are substantially bigger, adding almost 1000 lbs to the Fortwo’s weight, but manage mpge numbers similar to the eRating leader. The next tier includes the Ford Focus Electric and Toyota RAV4 EV, with scores of 237 and 183, respectively. The RAV4 EV’s much larger size and massive 40 kWh battery contribute to a curb weight of almost 4000 lbs and a combined mpge of 74.
Performance. The Tesla-engineered powertrain in the RAV4 EV boasts some impressive performance figures. Benefiting from the most powerful motor of the group, the mid-sized SUV manages 0-60 mph times under seven seconds. Another challenger to watch out for is the Chevy Spark EV. Although small, its 130 horsepower electric motor is spec’d with an astonishingly high 400 pound feet of torque.
Price. Prices have started to come down from the $35,000 – $40,000 range seen by the Focus Electric and Honda Fit EV. Expect this trend to continue as manufacturers follow the lead of Nissan, who dropped the price of the Leaf electric sedan by $6,400, down to a MSRP of $29,650 for the 2013 model year. When subtracting the $7,500 federal tax rebate from the MSRP of the Chevy Spark EV and Smart Fortwo EV, prices even begin to dip below $20,000. Then, if you are lucky enough to take advantage of the additional subsidies offered in California, you could see a full $10,000 taken off of the sticker price as well as single-occupant access to the swift-moving carpool lane.
Declining MSRPs and bargain lease prices have helped this batch of EVs rack up sales. The Fiat 500e, with a lease rate of just $199 a month, sold out its entire 2013, California-targeted inventory — several hundred cars according to press reports — in just two short months.
Although manufacturers are unlikely to greatly increase the supply of such green conversions, even these limited steps in offering more choices for consumers who seek electron-powered miles represent good news for the planet.