Electric Window Dressing: Many EVs Don't Really Mean It

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
electric window dressing many evs don t really mean it

As sales of EVs are tallied-up, keep one thing in mind: Many are not meant to be sold in earnest. “They’re only built to meet California regulations for zero-emission vehicles–which is why they’re called “compliance cars,” says Green Car Reports. The green blog separated the “real” EVs from the compliance chariots.

Green Car Reports found only four EVs which their manufacturers really want to sell in appreciable quantities:

  • 2012 Nissan Leaf
  • 2012 Mitsubishi ‘i’
  • 2012 Coda Sedan
  • 2012 Tesla Model S

Most other Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs) announced for 2012 through 2014 are only “compliance cars,” says Green Car Reports. Here is a list of EVs which don’t have the hearts of the manufacturers behind them:

  • Chevrolet Spark EV
  • Fiat 500 Elettrica
  • Ford Focus Electric
  • Honda Fit EV
  • Toyota RAV4 EV

Why do carmakers make cars they don’t really want to sell? California requires that carmakers of a certain size show that at least a small portion of their volume comes from zero-emission vehicles–either battery electric cars or fuel-cell electric vehicles. Cars like the Chevrolet Volt , the Fisker Karma, or the Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid don’t count as pure ZEV in CA. They have gasoline engines as well as plugs. However, plug-in hybrids with partial electric range help off-set a lack of ZEVs.

In the first round, only carmakers with high California sales have to worry: Toyota, Honda, GM, Ford, Nissan, and Chrysler.

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7 of 42 comments
  • Niky Niky on May 06, 2012

    Manufacturers don't really have to spend all that much. Subcontract production out to one of the conversion start-ups. Charge premium. done. In that sense, the RAV4 EV is the ultimate compliance car. Made By Somebody Else. Not quite sure about the Focus EV or Fit EV. The Focus at least sounds like a semi-serious project. The Fit... don't know. I'm wondering why Honda hasn't brought out the Fit Hybrid yet, actually.

  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on May 06, 2012

    If there is blame to be assigned, I'd put it on the government(s) - both state and local - who can't agree on the need for EVs. I'm not a greenie, but it is disingenuous of the US government to tout the virtues of EVs without trying to manipulate the market as California has. But it would be wrong for them to do so. In defense of the manufacturers, they're not really interested in losing money on EVs, so I don't blame them for half-hearted EV development efforts. As for Mitsubishi, their i-MiEV doesn't seem like a serious attempt.

    • Luke42 Luke42 on May 07, 2012

      You've skipped over the way economies of scale work. With high volume consumer products, you have to build a lot of them (and flesh out a supply chain) before they become price-competitive with more-established technologies. Just look at how many start-up vehicle manufacturers there have been in the last 50 years. And not many of them have survived. That's because volume and keeping the assembly machine running continuously saves you a LOT on unit costs. So, supposing that gasoline vehicles and EVs have the potential to cost about the same but that EVs have a lot of advantages in the situations where they're usable, how would you recommend bootstrapping an industry like that? (I agree that shoving car companies around with California's market regulations is a sloppy way to do it. But I'm also having trouble coming up with a better idea. But, with oil being a limited commodity, we're going to have to replace gasoline cars sooner or later, and being reactive about it is risky.)

  • FJ60LandCruiser FJ60LandCruiser on May 07, 2012

    EV's suffer from the liberal mindset anti-car ideology that mass transit, rapid rail, zipcar, etc. suffer from. Most people who are in favor of such technology live in some urban area where the car is probably the WORST means of getting around. Just about everyone takes the train, taxi, barter for ride rickshaw, or just walks to the ACORN campaign office which is located within a block of their studio apartment and favorite internet cafe/freestyle poetry club/organic coffee shop and can't imagine why anyone would drive to work. Most Americans don't live in the big city. Those who do live in the big city, DRIVE to the big city because they can't afford to live down the hall from a liberal pollster's 500k 1000 sq foot condo. Most don't have their own personal parking space where the free government subsidized electricity is provided along with a free government subsidized charger to recharge their car while they plot the next OWS protest. Most Americans don't have 30-40k of disposable income to spend on a new toy electric car because they're driving some 15 year old heap because that's all they can afford, and to them 25 grand for a ICE car that gets 35-40mpg and doesn't rely on infrastructure that doesn't exist in the real world is a LOT more appealing. But EV's will still get shoved down our throats, despite the vast majority of Americans living outside the target range of these "let me show everyone how much I love the environment/party ideology" toys.

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    • FJ60LandCruiser FJ60LandCruiser on May 07, 2012

      @Luke42 People are free to buy electric cars with their own money. I don't want taxpayer money wasted on companies like Fisker, giving tax credits for these overpriced toys, wasted on subsidies for EV charging stations in trendy downtown areas, and politicians using these things as campaign platforms.

  • Schmitt trigger Schmitt trigger on May 07, 2012

    FJ60LandCruiser; my first vehicle that I owned was a 1962 Land Cruiser, so we do share something..... I'm an electronics engineer. As such, I have traveled widely to the Pacific Rim Asia in the last couple of decades. One of the things one tends to see over there, is the amount of innovation and new engineering projects in all fields, not only electronics. This trend has accelerated in the last five years. The important thing of all this innovation and science is that a most of it is happening over there, and not over here. Many of those projects fall in the "toy" or "showcase" category, like ultra-high speed trains, CO2 sequestration or solar farms. But the dividends from all that research, the technical infrastructure and the high-level of education of its population, will be certainly collected by these nations in the future. Unfortunately, right now, the reverse is happening to the USA. The greatest science and infrastructure program of the 20th century was the space program, even greater than the Manhattan Project. Longer in duration, wider objectives, and many more people working on it. True, the immediate reason was to show a big middle finger to the Russians. But all the wealth of research and development have allowed the USA to reap rewards for over three decades. And all of it was government funded.