Consumer Reports Favors 'Purpose-Built' EVs

In the process of checking out the electric vehicles at this year’s EVS26 Symposium in Los Angeles, Consumer Reports has observed that purpose-made EVs trump ones adapted from gasoline models.

The influential consumer publication called out the Chevrolet Volt and Ford Focus Electric specifically as having higher center of gravity and sacrificing interior space as “converted” vehicles. The Volt shares its chassis with the Cruze, and the Ford Focus EV is based on, well you guessed it, the Ford Focus.

“The primary reasons to base an electric on a gasoline platform is to save money and race to market-both fair business objectives,” CR said. “But that approach smacks of lower commitment by those automakers to building electric cars.”

In contrast, CR likes the design philosophy of the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S better as these pack batteries low under the floor.

“The sleek Tesla Model S has impressive space efficiency, with a flat interior floor that’s wide open in front and gives generous legroom in the rear,” CR said. “It has a spacious hatchback big enough for a rear-facing third-row seat, and a trunk up front where the engine would go.”

Tesla Model S “skateboard” chassis.

And believe it or not, CR gave kudos also to the Coda electric sedan. Even though it was based on a 2000 Mitsubishi Lancer, “the company found a way to sandwich most of the batteries under the floor,” CR said.

After reading through Consumer Reports analysis, one could just as well summarize it by saying the publication appears to be increasingly coming to favor the inherent design advantages of the EV “skateboard” design, or the nearest equivalent.

The advantages of stowing batteries low and out of the way are several. For one, it does not necessitate sacrificing a fifth seat passenger as the Volt does. Nor does it sacrifice usable trunk space such as the Focus EV does by loading batteries in the back. In fact it leaves engineers free to design the vehicle with much less encumbrance from bulky batteries fitted into a conventional chassis.

And from a handling, braking and ride quality standpoint, the argument is made that the lower center of gravity afforded by flat batteries slung along the floor is the way to go.

That is, the heavy batteries ride low, and Tesla for one, has gone on record saying its Model S will be a superb handler among sedans in part for this reason.

Nissan places batteries less obtrusively below the Leaf’s floor.

“We’ll be looking for more purpose-built electric cars in the future,” Consumer Reports says, having inadvertently defined a new metric.

But while true the Cruze and Volt share much, it’s also been said GM built the Volt based on its 2007 concept vehicle and it has been called purpose built in some respects. Perhaps some could say it was sort of purpose built, but GM based it on a conventional design, and also spun off the Cruze that has since become a cash cow, while the Volt took the place of a halo for the New GM.

The Ford Focus EV is another issue, however. It undeniably came out of an existing model, has been called a high-efficiency “compliance car” to improve the company’s fleet fuel consumption and emissions average, and Ford has shown a nominal commitment to it thus far, so we’re more inclined to see CR’s points there.

Not addressed by CR however is crash-worthiness. Those batteries and related hardware are expensive, and would compound the complexity of any body shop repair if smashed in an accident.

Aside from much-amplified reports about the Volt’s battery potentially smoldering if crashed and left still charged, its battery is shielded from side-impact damage by being so buried in the center of the car. So that might even be an advantage for this one aspect of post-crash repair – depending on how hard it is hit, of course.

On the other hand, we’re not sure how protected the batteries would be from the side with electric vehicles with a skateboard design. No doubt all vehicles must be designed to protect occupants to acceptable standards – in fact the inherent weight of electric vehicle tends to help them do comparatively better in crash test results – but how would their electric underpinnings fare after an impact?

Maybe OK? Maybe not? More light will be shed on this question after these vehicles have had more time on the road, and more of them have had enough real world crashes for patterns to emerge.

Consumer Reports

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  • Las Paled

    I 100% agree with the utopian outlook on EV’s and that they should be “purpose built” and designed in a way that maximizes efficiency. That being said, today’s Purpose Built EV will do a good job for me 95% of the time… but it’s that 5% that is the kicker.

    I live in Las Vegas and sometimes I like to take a road trip off of the island to Arizona or California. The Chevy Volt was an easy decision for me as it is an EV 95% of the time for me but good enough to take 2 couples to California for a weekend getaway.

    If we are to call the 2010-2012 EV’s “First Generation” I would probably say its going to be about Fourth Generation before we get an EV that is able to make extended road trips and that is modestly priced. It will probably be 6th or 7th generation before the whole “refueling on the fly” will be figured out.

  • Modern Marvel Fan

    This is exactly I have NO respect for Consumer Report. From this article, it sounds like CR doesn’t really know much about anything…

    Let us put it this way. How much does the Volt share with the Cruze? Floor chassis? Obviously no since the Cruze doesn’t have a battery in the center console. Door panel, ok… Truck, No. Hood, maybe. Fender, No. Engines? No. Transmission? No. Exhaust? No. Suspension? No. So, at what point do you say it shares the chassis? It is NOT even built in the same factory…

    Higher center of gravity than Leaf? Did CR even drive it? I dare CR do a performance test between the two. Volt will out handle, out accelerate the Leaf by a bunch!

    CR reviewers need to go back to school and get an engineering degree before they talk…

  • Bill Cosworth

    Consumer Distorts.

    Consumer Distorts strikes again with getting donations from places to skew there ratings.

    Use Car and Driver and Automobile magazine to buy a car not consumer distorts.

    All there reliability data is skewed and false.

    I trust Consumer Distorts to buy milk not a car. They just rate too much to even be viable to rate cars. They are becoming more and more of a paid off business.