Good news from Detroit

The Chevy Spark EV, which is receiving rave reviews.
The Chevy Spark EV, which is receiving rave reviews. Photo: © General Motors
The Chevy Spark EV, which is receiving rave reviews.

The Chevy Spark EV, which is currently receiving rave reviews. Photo: © General Motors

In the month that sees Renault-Nissan selling its 100,000th electric car and BMW pricing its i3 at less than USD$50,000, it seems like a good time to take a look at what is happening with electric vehicles in the spiritual home of the automobile. The news from Detroit couldn’t have been much worse in recent times.

After decades of neglecting innovation in engine technology in favour of superficial design improvements and marketing gloss, the giants of Motor City lost ever-more market share to Asia. And as revenues dried up and the jobs moved to Mexico, the population of the city went into a steep decline and tax receipts dwindled. When the city declared bankruptcy last week, it was sad but perhaps inevitable.

So, having faced down bankruptcy themselves in recent years, what are the big three auto manufacturers doing to help ensure a better future through innovation in the electric vehicle market? The answer varies. Looking at the media’s report card on the subject, Ford gets an ‘A’, GM scores a ‘B’ and Chrysler really ‘must try harder’. Let’s start at the back of the class.

According to a biting article from Nino Marchetti in Earthtechling Chrysler isn’t taking electric vehicles seriously at all, seeing them purely as a niche market and putting precious little cash into related R&D. The article ends with a highly dispiriting quote from a senior talking head, basically saying it is only government regulation, not market opportunity, that forces the company to get involved in electric vehicles at all.

GM, on the other hand, scores multiple plaudits, most recently thanks to the sterling performance of the Chevy Spark EV, as reported inEVObsession. Not only can this compact little mover recharge in as little as 20 minutes, throwing down the gauntlet to Tesla, but auto aficionados are raving about its massive torque and its acceleration of 0-60mph in less than eight seconds.

Best of all is the price: retailing at $27,495 before incentives (which vary from state to state in the US), it is cheaper than the Nissan Leaf. Banzai! But the teacher’s pet in the Detroit electric vehicle class has to be the Ford Motor Company.

According to a recent press release, Ford hybrid sales are breaking records, with 24,217 vehicles delivered in the second quarter of 2013, up 517% over last year and 15% over the first quarter, as demand grew in markets across the US and as more Toyota and Honda customers traded in their vehicles for a Ford. Through June 2013, Ford sold more than 46,000 electric vehicles.

The company’s strong product lineup has led to Ford’s US market share growing at a faster rate than competitors, gaining nearly a full percentage point through the first half of the year. So things may be bad in Detroit at the moment… but there are some reasons to be positive about the future of US electric vehicle manufacturing.

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