NYTimes: A Banner year for Plug ins
December 24, 2012
FOR those who advocate the electrification of the automobile, it has been a good year. No fewer than eight significant plug-in models came to market in the United States in 2012.
That’s progress, but even if the absolute number was modest, the heft of the companies behind them could not be ignored: battery-electric and plug-in hybrid cars arrived from BMW and Honda, while Ford and Toyota each released two. Tesla and Coda, California-based electric specialists, offered sedans with starkly different levels of appeal.
So it may be tempting to declare 2012 the year of the electric car — at least until you consider that many of these debuts were for limited production runs of a couple of thousand vehicles. When the year’s final sales figures are reported, cars with plugs will still represent only about one-third of 1 percent of the new-car market.
Despite their small share of overall sales, plug-in cars seem to have established a beachhead this year, regardless of the ups and downs revealed in the year’s electric car headlines.
TESLA MODEL S In January, Franz von Holzhausen, design chief at Tesla Motors, promised that the first car designed and produced entirely by the start-up, the Model S, would not only be a good E.V. but “the best sedan on the planet.”
At the time, auto reviewers mostly dismissed the words as more Silicon Valley braggadocio. But once they drove the car, many who had been Tesla doubters became E.V. believers. Automobile magazine and Motor Trend each named the Model S its car of the year.
NISSAN LEAF WILTS Tesla was not the only company that failed to meet E.V. sales goals in 2012. Nissan struggled to find customers for its all-electric Leaf compact. But even with tepid sales in the first few months of the year, Carlos Ghosn, Nissan’s chief executive and one of the auto industry’s most outspoken E.V. proponents, stood firm: “I am not changing my bullish approach,” he told reporters at the New York auto show in April.
RIUS GOES MAINSTREAM Toyota added a plug-in version to its growing family of Prius hybrids in 2012. It also added the extra-capacity Prius V wagon and the subcompact Prius C, rated at 53 m.p.g. in city driving. Prius is now the No. 1 selling line of cars in California.
It took 15 years for the Prius to grow from an avant-garde experiment, to a high-volume product line. In 2012, Toyota will sell more than one million hybrids globally.