The annual North American International Auto Show in Detroit wraps up this week, leaving electric vehicle fans underwhelmed with no unveilings of hybrid, plug-in electric, or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles ready for the public. In fact, in the fuel-saving arena the big attraction was a big truck: the top-selling, garage-swamping 2015 Ford F150, which Ford hopes will achieve “close to” 30 mpg on the highway. (Audi did show off a “concept car” that it claims will travel 31 miles on electricity before its gasoline engine kicks in; as for availability, according to an Audi spokesman the so-called Allroad Shooting Brake offers “very concrete glimpses of the near future.”)
For that matter, the plug-in auto market has hit some sort of plateau: the only truly new models ready for the public are Cadillac’s sleek $76,000 ELR (which arrived in dealerships in December) and BMW’s otherworldly $41,350 i3, which has been available in Europe since November and hits the U.S. in May. The ELR, like the Chevrolet Volt upon which it is based, has a “range extending” gas-powered generator; the BMW is available with a range extender for an additional $3850.
Market research firm Gartner unflatteringly calls this technology lull the “trough of disillusionment” that naturally follows a “peak of inflated expectations.” (The Frankfurt Auto Show -- the world's largest -- was wall-to-wall green vehicles in 2009.) Fortunately for electric-vehicle supporters, Gartner's so called "Hype Cycle" anticipates a “slope of enlightenment” and “plateau of productivity” after the aforementioned trough. For the curious, John German, who focuses on technology innovation and U.S. policy development for the International Council on Clean Transportation, puts electric vehicles in compelling long-term perspective.
There is other good news: Today more than a dozen plug-in vehicles (gas/electric hybrid and all-electric) are available to the buying public, from the $23,845 Mitsubishi i to the $95,000-plus, 265-miles-per-charge Tesla S sedan. (Those figures don’t include the $7,500 federal tax credit or any state incentives.) For a look at what’s available, head over to the Sierra Club’s Electric Vehicle Guide.
Image of 2014 plug-in hybrid Cadillac ELR courtesy of GM.
Reed McManus is a senior editor at Sierra. He has worked on the magazine since Ronald Reagan’s second term. For inspiration, he turns to cartoonist R. Crumb’s Mr. Natural, who famously noted: “Twas ever thus.”