Automakers building EVs


By Lawrence Papoff
The future of the electric car is as bright as the automaker you talk to.

A group of them got to together to peer into their crystal balls at the recent EV2011 Conference and Trade Show held in Toronto this past week.

If you listened to Ian Forsyth, EV project manager for Nissan Canada the electric vehicle’s (EV) future is so bright you gotta wear shades.

Nissan and Mitsubishi own bragging rights for having the only electric cars (EVs) on the Canadian retail market with the LEAF and i-MiEV, respectively. Forsyth argued that North American consumers are on the brink of a cultural revolution. He says they’ll pay the price for a Leaf – a compact, five-door hatchback – $38,395 less rebates from the Ontario and Quebec governments as high as $8,500.

“Only five per cent of consumers bought a car here because it was the least expensive,’” Forsyth argued. They’re not skinflints. They will go electric because it’s the right thing to do and price be damned. After all, Canadian consumers pay on average $26,000 now for a new car.

“We may be at a change point. Don’t get in the way of consumers.”

Look for a growing lineup of EVs from Nissan, he predicted, including a sports car powered by two electric motors and a soundtrack to give it that familiar throbbing sound of a gas-powered engine.

There is, of course, something automakers call “range anxiety.” This vaguely Freudian sounding term means consumers worry about the potential of EVs running out of juice and getting stranded.

Nissan boasts the LEAF has a class leading range of 160 km per charge, plenty to satisfy the real world driver and a dashboard full of advice on range. Add to that a three-year subscription to CARWINGS, and the driver gets maps showing the nearest charging station, voltage-saving routes and other data.

With tree icons representing trees saved popping up on the dash to reward owners for their voltage-wise driving, they will become, “members of a global community,” where membership is well worth paying the sticker price.

Ford Canada is not sure.  That’s not to say the Blue Oval won’t have an EV in its lineup in 2012. It will – the Focus Electric. But it’s not a bullish about young Canadians’ ability to pay.

“Twenty percent of our graduates earn (considerably) less than $37,000,” said Steve Ross, Ford Canada marketing manager. That piece of data dampens the automaker’s enthusiasm.

“Toyota believes in EVs,” the company said. But it’s bringing to the retail market the Prius Plug-In Hybrid (PHV), a cautious mix of EV with a gas engine, to generate electric power just in case, “the best of both worlds, gas and electric.”

The Prius earns the title hybrid because its gas engine can power the car when needed.

Sandy Di Felice of Toyota Canada wouldn’t discuss range or price. But with 3.3 million sold worldwide, she said the automaker is placing its faith in hybrids with eight already in the lineup and “more to come.”

Why not shift the hybrid buyer to plug-ins?

“A hybrid buyer is not necessarily a plug-in buyer,” Di Felice concluded.