The list of pending U.S. market alternative energy cars is considerable, technologically diverse, but a few relatively affordable standouts are worth noting.
To date, the green car market includes over three dozen hybrids, about a dozen each of plug-in hybrids and battery electric vehicles – some not nationally available – but our list consists of the most cutting edge 50-state plug-in cars.
Most are to start at less than $40,000, though a couple may go some ways above that. True enough, this is not exactly entry level when the new car transactions today averaging cars priced in the teens as well as those in the six figures works out to low 30s. However, plug-in subsidies will potentially be available to whittle down net costs.
Following are seven green cars that could be worth waiting for.
Due later this year, the Ioniq gets an asterisk next to its name because aside from being offered in plug-in hybrid (PHEV) and battery electric (EV) versions, it is due first as a conventional hybrid.
The model had been anticipated for a couple years and debuted last year in Korea, and this year for the U.S. in New York. It promises to set new benchmarks and Hyundai has said it wants to be in the global top 2 by 2020 for green car sales.
The hybrid version of course does not plug in, but does threaten to edge out the new fourth-generation 2016 Prius’ spec sheet in several important criteria, including mpg which – prior to EPA certification – Hyundai says may even be north of 56 mpg in the most-efficient trim.
Hyundai’s plug-in hybrid Ioniq to be released early 2017 will be based on the same 1.6-liter gas engine plus single motor powertrain in the regular hybrid, with addition of an 8.9-kWh lithium-polymer battery good for between 25 and 30 miles EV range, according to Hyundai.
The battery electric Ioniq to launch soon after the hybrid this year will in turn delete the entire engine, and replace it with an all-electric powertrain with modest 110-mile EV range. It is expected the pricing for these Ioniq variants will make them competitive, though more on that will be disclosed closer to launch.
Toyota Prius Prime
The 1.8-liter hybrid vehicle doubles the traction battery capacity of the 2012-2015 Prius PHV to 8.8 kWh, and is projected to be rated for 22 miles EV range.
Toyota says this is enough range to let half of all commuters drive gas free. It’s also 13 miles less than the 2011 Chevy Volt, but then Toyota does have that brand recognition working it its favor and offers a complete package …
Merged into total Prime offering is a powertrain that when not running on electrons should get fuel economy in line with the 52 mpg Prius liftback hybrid from which it was taken.
Riding on Toyota’s New Global Architecture, the 60-percent stiffer chassis promises respectable cornering prowess and is adorned with a body with ultra low coefficient of drag, and lots of amenities.
The former plug-in Prius was sold just in 15 states, and 50-state availability when released this fall signals greater confidence by Toyota in its new Prius Prime.
Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid
Delayed a few times to the U.S. for the past three years, the latest projection is Mitsubishi’s plug-in hybrid that has led sales charts in Europe will be on sale later this year.
As a four-wheel-drive true sport utility vehicle, the Outlander threatens to open a segment until now occupied by relative elites from Volvo, Porsche and BMW.
Capable of running gas free for a significant, but to be disclosed EPA-rated range from its 12-kWh battery, the vehicle utilizes a twin motor 4-wheel drive and “Super-All Wheel Control” (“S-AWC”) system.
In the UK, it’s been advertised under that country’s rating system with EV range as high as 32.5 miles, while emitting as little as 44 grams per kilometer of CO2 and returning 148 mpg combined.
Mitsubishi is however being investigated in Japan for misreporting Japan-market mini-cars’ mpg. U.S. authorities have also made inquiries, but to date no misreporting is known on U.S. cars, let alone the Outlander PHEV.
The company does face challenges its president says has its survival in question, so how things play out remain to be seen.
An electric vehicle that will push the envelop the farthest this year in miles range for the dollar is the all-new 2017 Chevy Bolt.
Built in response to Tesla’s expected Model 3, GM doubled down on its engineering and production resources to show the production Bolt early this year with an anticipated starting price of $37,500 and range estimated north of 200 prior to EPA certification.
Built on a skateboard type chassis which GM originated and which was used first by Tesla in its Model S, the Bolt uses it to free up interior volume atop the flat floor with 60-kWh battery inside.
Zero to sixty mph is supposed to take less than 7 seconds making for a peppy ride 3 seconds quicker than a Prius, through slower than the sub-6-second Model 3 projected by Tesla for late 2017.
Styled like a hatchback, it is not as sleek as the Model 3 sedan either, though with 10.2-inch touchscreen, a number of advanced features, and with GM experimenting with semi-autonomous examples, it is not low tech.
Look for EPA numbers within a couple months or so, and ordering to open up nationwide later this year. Production begins before the end of the year, GM says.
Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid
In introducing what is also its only hybrid model at the moment, Fiat-Chrysler also opened a segment that was Toyota and Honda’s game to lose – and one advocates may hope will yet lure other automakers in besides.
At this stage, the Pacifica Hybrid – renamed from the Town & Country and deliberately called “Hybrid” to not confuse people about plugging in – is in a class of one.
It utilizes a 16-kWh battery under the rear seats for up to an estimated 30 miles EV range and 80 MPGe.
When not running in EV mode, its V6 Pentastar engine based hybrid powertrain may provide class-leading mpg as well.
Next-Generation Nissan Leaf
The mystery car, and one that will garner instant headlines as soon as it breaks cover is the next-generation Nissan Leaf which is expected to get a full redeisgn and range competitive with the Chevy Bolt.
What it will look like has people guessing, but it’s long been rumored that more-mainstream styling will come in to steer the design away from the frog-eyed super-eco-car look of 2011-present.
Not a rumor is Chief designer Shiro Nakamura said in Beijing it will look very much like the IDS concept shown.
Nakamura told journalist Bertel Schmitt of the Daily Kanban he is aware that the frumpy present design doesn’t work any longer. While not spelling out what to exactly expect, Nakamura said many concepts shown at car shows are “just concepts, but occasionally there are some that are are very close to reality.”
Whether Nissan rolls it out for 2017 is not looking likely, and Michigan-based analyst Alan Baum projects early 2018 is when we’ll have access to it.
In its favor is Nissan has long been bullish on EVs, it is likely to support and market it more effectively than Chevrolet does the Bolt, and it will cater to an existing owner base of more than 200,000 worldwide who have purchased the first-generation Leaf.
Specs like 0-60, actual range, are anyone’s guess but a conservative bet would be it will stay within realm of what came before while improving everything.
Tesla Model 3
The Model 3 is last on the list not because it is least, but because its place on the list goes without saying.
After all, this list is about cars that are “worth waiting for,” and with around 400,000 paid reservations by Tesla intenders, this qualification is a given.
To be priced from $35,000 – plus potential delivery fee – the EV will deliver 215 miles range or more from a battery slightly smaller than the Chevy Bolt’s, and upper trim levels with larger batteries stand to push well beyond.
All-wheel-drive, semi-autonomous autopilot, and access to Tesla’s growing Supercharger network are also perks for this vehicle which has attracted unprecedented interest.
Pre-production prototypes this year reportedly had production-level powertrains, but more development work is needed as Tesla last week announced it was increasing plans to produce more cars by far than it ever has.
Last year Tesla sold close to 52,000 vehicles worldwide consisting mostly of Model S with a few Model X deliveries as well.
After the flood of Model 3 orders, it is now saying by 2018 its three models –S, X, 3 – are to account for half a million vehicles produced that year as the company shoots for as many as 1 million by 2020.
If that feat is accomplished, that could mean nearly 20-times the volume of just five years prior, and this is quite stretch goal.
Whatever happens, clear at this stage is the Model 3 has amplified consumer interest and sends a signal that people want what it is offering.
The car represents a cause and a movement as much as it is a product, and to say eyes will be on how things go is the understatement of the year.