Friday, January 10, 2014

Mating Season

Inside EVs recently ran an article asking readers which new-for-2014 plug-in excites them most: BMW i3, BMW i8, Cadillac ELR, Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive, or Tesla Model X. There didn’t seem to be much excitement expressed by many readers for any of these US debuts; any eagerness was typically  for the Model X, as one might expect. I entered a short post declaring my apathy toward the newcomers… and since I have more real estate to play with on this blog, I’ll take this opportunity to expand on that.

BMW i8, Cadillac ELR: I really don’t know much about these hybrids, except that they’re really expensive attempts at sporty coupes. If I had a good reason to buy something of that ilk, I’d opt for the new Stingray, or a fully loaded 2015 Mustang with the turbo 4, or a used Tesla roadster. In that order. My dream sports car at the moment? A plug-in Mustang for under $40K. A hopped-up Energi or BEV drivetrain will do, but I think I’d prefer the Energi drivetrain so I don’t have to tow it to the track. Take the whole trunk to convert it if necessary, no need a dedicated cargo area… after all, it is a sports car. Just leave the back seat intact so I can take my boys along for the ride.

Tesla Model X: Finally, a two and a half ton Tesla that has a good excuse for being two and a half tons, and for being among the least efficient of all BEV offerings.  Model X is to BEV as Hummer is to ICE. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate it. I think it’s pretty cool actually, just like the Model S. Worth every penny of its anticipated asking price. I just don’t want one. And I’m afraid my wife will eventually want one. I got her an H3 when she wanted one, and we had fun exploring its capabilities once in a while. The same would happen with the Model X. We’d get one, have fun with it for a while, and dump it when she’s bored with it and realizes how overkill it is for our daily needs. For the same amount of money, I can get her a Rav4 EV (which she is currently interested in) and use the leftover cash to get my 2014 Stingray. A red one.

BMW i3: Okay, I live in Los Angeles so I totally understand why it has to look like that – it’s an effort to win back trendy former BMW owners that defected to a Prius for its “You suck because I’m greener than you are” look – but does it have to be so dang small? It’s so small that it has less than 10 cu ft of trunk space… excusable for an ICE conversion like the Volt or Spark EV, but utterly pathetic for a design-from-scratch plug-in. The purpose-built Leaf has over double that cargo volume, and the Focus and MiEV conversions have over 30% more room back there.  And unlike most other BMWs, it bears no homage to the wonderful marque. Replace the kidneys in the front with a stylized H in an oval, and it would more convincingly pass off as a Hyundai. To me, the only BMW that's less appealing to the eye than the i3 is Griff Tannon’s converted BMW in Back to the Future Part II. BMW must have used that hovercraft as inspiration for the i3; the obvious giveaway is that orange-and-black paint scheme of i3 images that have proliferated hyped-up articles of late… same colors as Griff’s ride, just need to add some gray primer to the left rear quarter panel.

Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive: A BEV with a 100-mile range for a little over $40K… I like it, but it looks like a mini-minivan, similar to the C-Max. Not ugly; it’s actually quite pleasing. But it’s boring, to me at least, when compared to current Mercedes ICE offerings available in the US. Regardless, I think Mercedes will sell every single one they decide to build. It’s almost as long as a Leaf, so it’s much bigger than the i3, and better looking, for about the same amount of cash. But I’m wondering why they didn’t electrify the CLA instead… the CLA is an incredibly reasonably priced, beautifully sculpted version of the Mercedes A-platform that is selling like hotcakes right now. Could it be that Tesla wouldn’t share its technology with Mercedes if it were to be implemented in a sedan that would be a direct threat to their anticipated Model E?

There were a couple of other newbies not covered in the article but mentioned in reader responses – the Kia Soul EV and the VW e-Golf – that seem to line up squarely into the market currently served by the Leaf, Focus Electric, and others in terms of range, performance, and anticipated price. They will come with their own virtues and quirks,  thereby adding much-needed diversity to the current sub-$40K plug-in choices.

Perhaps there’s nothing particularly exciting about 2014 for those like me that are already committed, at least financially, to the plug-in movement. But for those just getting into the game, and for those still sitting at the bar nursing a beer, staring at the front door while waiting for perfection to make an entrance, 2014 may be the year for them. After all, more fish in the pond is a good thing.

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