August Sees Ups and Downs For ‘Little League’ EV Players

Electric vehicle sales headlines more often focus on the two comparatively major players – Tesla and Nissan – but there is fair number of limited-market electric cars also making a minor dent, and with varying degrees of potential to grow beyond.

These would be Chevrolet’s new Spark EV, Fiat’s 500E, Honda’s Fit EV, the Smart fortwo EV, the Toyota RAV4 EV and Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV (sold in 50 states, but with declining sales).

Some have called the not-fully available EVs “compliance cars” as in cases they are apparently intended to do little more for their manufacturers than gain a foothold in states that adhere to California’s Air Resources Board rules.

To be charitable, in this overview we’re arbitrarily calling them “little league” players. This is because their August sales numbers are but a small fraction of the Nissan Leaf’s (record) 2,240 sales and the Tesla Model S’ estimated 1,700 sales in August.

Further, Nissan and Tesla are fully optimistic on the future of EV and have jumped in head first, and it would appear the market is rewarding their bold moves by leaps and bounds beyond the more tepid competition.

With the exception of the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, each of these cars’ respective manufacturers has chosen to not be as gung-ho in making offerings widely available and attractive enough to begin climbing toward mainstream acceptance.

Some of them actually do offer a solid value proposition against Nissan, but this is where things stand.

Spark EV

In June this year Chevrolet launched the electric version of its Spark (pictured above) in just two states, California and Oregon. Its sales were 27 units in June, 103 in July and 102 in August.

General Motors made the decision to seed the car into the two most acknowledged EV-embracing states, and has said it will look to future roll outs.

Although as a company GM experienced multiple record sales in August, the Spark EV dipped back by one unit.

Fiat 500E

The Fiat 500E was recently launched in California and sold 50 units in August and 35 in July.

Fiat 500E.

This month it did experience a setback with a recall, but it’s otherwise an aspiring player, and has room to climb.

Ford Focus Electric

The Ford Focus Electric was initially a limited market car, is now said to be available in all 50 states, and the company chopped the sales price in July to $35,200 plus $795 destination, but its sales have remained middling.

In August it sold 175 units. This is around 17 percent over July’s number, up 415 percent compared to August 2012, but the car had no where to go but up, and still does.

Ford-Focus-Electric-Feature-1213

Its calendar year to date sales of 1,225 are more telling. This is about half of what Nissan did in August alone for its competitively priced Leaf.

The Ford does offer a liquid thermally managed battery whereas the Leaf uses air cooling, but the market is speaking more favorably in Nissan’s direction.

Honda Fit EV

Honda’s electric Fit is a pretty neat car, and has one of the highest MPGe figures for its size, at 118.

It is lease-only and in May Honda slashed the rate to $259 from $389 for three-year lease with no down payment. The package also includes a 240-volt home charger.

2013_Honda_Fit_EV-668LR

In February, Honda expanded beyond California and Oregon to selected markets in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, New York, and New Jersey.

In June, Honda saw a spurt of 208 leases, but in July they cut back to 63, and in August they were 66.

RAV4 EV

The RAV4 EV is a neat all-electric SUV powered by a Tesla powertrain that zips nicely.

2013-Toyota-Rav4-EV-Action-Right-02

Unfortunately it’s sold only through selected California dealers in major metro areas and plans are 2,600 units will be made, then production will cease at the end of 2014.

Last month it did do relatively great, more than doubling July’s 109 sales with a record 231 delivered.

Smart Fourtwo EV

The Smart Fourtwo EV can be 36-month leased at a starting rate of $139 per month with $1,999 down.

It has only been on the market since May in California, Oregon, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts. Vermont and Maine.

Mercedes-Benz auf der New York International Auto Show (NYIAS), 2013  Mercedes-Benz at the New York International Auto Show (NYIAS 2013) 2013

There are other caveats involved as well, but the car did have a great month in August, relatively speaking.

The Daimler-owned company reported 182 units delivered which towered above 58 in July, 53 in June, and 60 in May.

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

Mitsubishi i-MiEV is the pioneer among them all. It’s based on a Japanese market “kei” car converted to pure EV and launched in 2009 in its home country.

i-MiEV_Log_Cabin1

It’s now sold worldwide under the Mitsubishi brand and Citreon and Peugeot, but alas, in the U.S. only 30 were delivered last month.

The i-MiEV is really not a bad car, but competition from the likes of Nissan and others has made consumers look elsewhere.

Mitsubishi has been bold in offering it in all 50 states, and it will soon enough be joined by the Outlander PHEV which is looking attractive and could put Mitsubishi back in the minds of more buyers looking for plug-in electrified vehicles.

Opportunities Untapped?

With the exception of Mitsubishi, it’s believed some of these cars could do better if given the chance.

In the case of the Honda Fit EV, its lease does present a compelling value against competitors, and for that matter, so does the price and value for the tiny Spark EV and Ford Focus Electric.

Further, we know people in regions besides California really like the Toyota RAV4 EV, but Toyota is not pushing for it. Also the Smart’s monthly payment is about as much as a smartphone after initial down payment is made.

But outside of the flagging Mitsu, none of these cars are being aggressively marketed like the two Big League players.

Nissan Leaf.

Nissan Leaf.

Only Tesla’s Elon Musk and Nissan-Renault’s Carlos Ghosn have been bullish enough to take a chance as big as their respective egos to show EVs are ready now.

To be sure, theirs has been an uphill battle that is anything but settled yet.

Tesla and Nissan are making traction however. Of the two, when looking at the “little league” players, Nissan is a better one to compare to as its pricing is more in line with most of them.

But every company must do what it sees best to market its offerings as successfully as possible. No doubt this could be a lengthy debate, and comparative fence-sitting automakers have cited reasons for why they are doing what they are.

Who is right or wrong is not being stated here. It would appear however that limited risk seems to reap limited reward, and those who have swung hardest the soonest are playing in a whole other league with 10-times the volume or more than the average for rest of the pack.