Ask anyone who the electric vehicle manufacturers are, and “Tesla” is probably the name you will hear most often. While Elon Musk has garnered most of the reporting ink, Tesla is not the only game in town.
Aside from Tesla, there are two very separate groups of electric vehicle manufacturers in the world today. The first is made up of the “legacy” or big-name brand gasoline car makers.
The second group is a very entrepreneurial lot. This group is made up of mostly start-ups with one or two “Concept” cars travelling from show to show.
Some of the most innovative and forward-thinking designs are coming from this group. They may be able to do an end-run around the legacy manufacturers who are slowly weaning their buyers from gasoline to electric.
Let’s take a look at some of the models these two camps are offering. And get a better idea of what you can expect to find on your local roadways in the next few years.
What is an Electric Vehicle?
But first, let’s take a moment to define what an electric vehicle is and which ones we’ll be comparing here. The term covers a broad spectrum from electric buses that are starting to appear in cities to the more common electric golf carts and utility vehicles. For this article, though, we’re going to talk more about sedan style or SUV style cars.
There are two types of vehicles that are currently classified as electric vehicles. The first relies solely on electric power. The most important selling feature of this Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) usually is its range figure. How far the car will travel between charges is vital to know as is the length of time it will take to recharge.
Hybrids (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle), on the other hand, have a backup gasoline engine which kicks in once the electric power is depleted. These vehicles are so commonplace they hardly warrant any press these days. They also play no role in the discussion of electric vehicle infrastructures.
For many years, the spread of electric vehicles has been hampered by the lack of infrastructure to support them. There still aren’t charging stations on every other street corner like there are gas stations. Though Tesla alone is said to be adding thousands per year. Also, the range increases seen in the last few years is making EV ownership more practical anywhere.
The Australian EV Industry
There is currently one new electric vehicle manufacturer poised to begin operation. A new manufacturer in Queensland, ACE Electric Vehicles, is targeting release of its first electric car by the third quarter of 2019. They will offer two models, both priced below $40,000.
Melbourne-based power chain assembler SEA Electric was one of several manufacturers calling on the government to provide more support for electric vehicles. Other manufacturers have indicated they would also be willing to consider manufacturing here. These include including Toyota, Mitsubishi, Isuzu and Nissan. But only if there were more incentives offered to customers. They also seek a more significant commitment to funding the infrastructure needed.
There has been an uptick in the industry according to the Electric Vehicle Council. They note that the industry is gaining momentum with improvements in sales as well as an increase in the range of models available (from 16-23). This was made possible in part by an increase in the number of charging stations available. The other significant factor, they say, is the willingness of businesses to invest in electric for their fleet vehicles.
Australia is not the only country seeing an uptick in electric vehicle adoption. Germany is also offering incentives for EV purchases and is investing heavily in its charging infrastructure. As a result, EV sales have increased by 23%.
It’s not only governments and individuals involved in growing the popularity of electric vehicles. Telekom, a substantial European telecommunications company, is also preparing to meet the 2030 deadline for all German cars to be emission-free. They are converting more than 12,000 old distribution boxes into fast-charging stations.
Legacy Electric Vehicle Manufacturers
First let’s look at some of the offerings from some of the best-known, or legacy, car makers. It’s important to understand that not all these vehicles are going to be available in all parts of the world. Usually, however, there is a very similar model or a close cousin offered by a partnership between manufacturers.
Audi has the A3, a Sportback e-Tron and introduced the e-Tron Concept at the 2018 LAS Auto Show. They will start production of the Concept in 2019.
BMW has five electric models. Its small i3 has a very tight turning radius, carbon-fibre construction, and all the precision controls you could want. Its range is 114 miles, but it can be extended with an accessory. At $44,900 its price is squarely between “economy” electric models and the “luxury models”.
Chevy has the Volt and the Bolt. The Bolt is the long-range vehicle of the two and goes 238 miles on a charge. 17,000 Bolts sold in the US in 2017, making it the third largest seller.
Ford has three models but is planning to expand that to 40 models on the road by 2022, 16 of which will be BEVs. One of them, the Ford Edison, is described as an electric Mustang-inspired utility vehicle.
This example demonstrates what all the legacy manufacturers are doing. They are slowly moving to BEV and are counting on the popularity of the gasoline versions of each model to help “sell” the idea.
Mitsubishi/Nissan has two electric models. The Nissan Leaf has a price point of $29,990. It also has some self-driving features (which they’re calling ProPilot Assist) depending on the model.
The Renault Zoe is only $23,496 making it the most affordable on the road. With a decent driving range of 250 miles listed as it’s range. Tests of that number showed a more realistic range of 186 miles in the summer and 124 in winter. It’s Europe’s number one selling EV.
The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive should be considered in a class of its own. While it’s $20,409 price tag is technically the lowest of all, it’s size is even more diminutive. Its pickup is also tiny. It does 0-60 in 11.5 seconds and only has a range of 160 km. This slow acceleration means this is a car for a particular driver who needs to run around town or has a very short commute.
The Electric Vehicle Start-Ups
While it’s been said the legacy car manufacturers are slowly moving over to EVs, many start-up firms are using EVs to get into car manufacturing. Their offerings frequently include highly customised features designed to attract early-adopter buyers with the price tags that go with that.
Faraday Future FF-91 should have been launched in 2018. But the company has been teetering on the edge of bankruptcy. It is a futuristic vehicle in many senses, with windows you tap to tint, review mirrors completely replaced by cameras, and an app on your phone replacing the key as well as controlling your temperature, seats, and more.
Byton EV SUV is another Tesla rival which will go on sale in 2019 for 45,000. It offers a 250-mile range and 0-60mph in around 5 seconds. Interested attendees got an actual test ride in the prototype, so it’s much more likely this car will be available in 2020. It’s way passed concept.
Fisker EMotion is designed by Henrik Fisker and is another rival to the Tesla Model S, not just in power but also in price. It will feature a 400+ mile range and will eventually support autonomous driving modes thanks to radar and cameras integrated into the front of the car. It goes into production in 2019 and is expected to cost $129,000.
A Croatian hypercar manufacturer makes Rimac C-Two. It has been announced as the fastest electric vehicle doing 0-60mph in 1.85 seconds. That beats out the Tesla Roadster. It will also boast a 404-mile range and a recharge to 80% time of just 30 minutes. There will be a limited production run in 2019.
Rivian R1S is an off-roader designed to tackle the great outdoors. First seen at the LA auto show in 2018, there will also be a truck/pickup version. Pre-orders were being taken at the show for just $1,000, though reviewers recommended waiting until the car is close to being production ready before placing an order.
More that are coming include the Morgan EV3 (late 2019), a custom made electric version of the classic Morgan three-wheeled vehicle (two-wheels in front, one in back). It looks a lot like the original race cars of the 1920s and 1930s.
And the largest maker of electric vehicles is not Tesla, but BYD. The company is a Chinese manufacturer whose cars aren’t for sale in most markets. The company was named “BYD” before the Internet was developed so it would appear first in the phone book listings of car companies.
BYD grew to become 5% of China’s total car market by the late 2000s. It has recently begun showing up in select American business fleets. From there, it’s expected to grow to be a worldwide seller slowly.
The Future Looks Electric
With so many great offerings from electric vehicle manufacturers available, the acceptance of BEVs and the number we see on local roads is bound to continue to increase. First will be the cars from the legacy manufacturers, many of which look like their gasoline counterparts. Soon, though, the unusual looking grill on several of the concept e-cars will be spotted.
All these new cars are bound to spawn new options and innovations in many other areas of our lives as well. One way to keep on top of it all is to check out the blog at All Electric Vehicles for the latest news on Australia’s electric vehicle manufacturers and industry.