Like the slow train, we know electric cars are coming...

Like the slow train, we know electric cars are coming...

In the last of a three-part series for just-auto, Glenn Brooks looks into the future of electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in electric vehicles (PHEVs) in the world’s major vehicle markets.

The doubters were many but the era of the plug-in car has well and truly arrived. If you’ll pardon the puns, Nissan is the current leader of the battery pack, having begun the global rollout of the all-electric Leaf hatchback in late 2010. The company has been cautious with quality and so thus far, production numbers are modest, especially in the US. That is set to change, once production at the Oppama plant in Japan is joined by build at Smyrna in Tennessee (2012) as well as at Sunderland in England (2013).

Nissan seems content to focus its main attention on ramping up Leaf build numbers rather than launching extra plug-in vehicles, though a run of light commercials to be based upon its Vanette is due to be launched in Japan in the fourth quarter of 2011.

The Nissan EV powertrain as introduced by the Leaf has laminated compact lithium-ion batteries that store power of just over 90kW, while the electric motor delivers a claimed 80kW/280Nm. The battery packs are sourced from AESC, a Japan-based joint venture with NEC.

Nissan is not only assisting its Alliance partner Renault with EV technology but also Dongfeng, the state-controlled firm with which it operates a car manufacturing joint venture in China. The Dongfeng Nissan JV is in fact developing a new brand for China, to be called 'Venucia', with an EV due to be launched in 2015. This car is expected to use locally made components based on what will by then be four years of Leaf production.

If Nissan is keeping its plug-in portfolio modest (as well as the plug-in Vanette, there will also be one Leaf-based EV model for Infiniti, due for launch in 2013), that cannot be said for Renault, which has just begun a roll out of multiple cars and light commercial vehicles. The first model, the Fluence Z.E. (zero emissions), is being manufactured exclusively by OYAK-Renault at the Bursa plant in Turkey. The production target for 2012 is said to be 30,000 cars, though it is believed that the plant is flexible enough to expand this to as many as 50,000: the Fluence Z.E. comes down the same line as the petrol and diesel versions of the Fluence.

The plug-in version of the Ford Focus-sized Fluence Z.E. is also the centre of a hugely ambitious experiment by Renault and the battery switching company, Better Place. The two firms have stated that by 2016 they aim to sell up to a combined 100,000 electric vehicles in Israel & Denmark, the first two markets where Better Place's battery swap stations are being trialled. It won't be 'Quickdrop' (a robotised drive-in 3-minute battery swap) only, however: recharging and fast recharging systems are also being rolled out in both countries. Better Place will manage the charging infrastructure including integration with local utilities. In Israel, as well as the network of charging sites, there will be an eventual 100 swapping stations, the first of which opened in March 2011.

Amongst the next cabs off the plug-in rank for Renault will be the Zoé Z.E. This is to be a derivative of the fourth generation Clio. The little car will be made in France at the Flins plant from 2012. The styling is expected to have been previewed by the second Renault concept to be called Zoe. This one had its world premiere as the Zoe Z.E. (Zero Emissions) at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2009.

Zoe drivers will be able to swap their car's battery pack at a Better Place Quickdrop centre in relevant markets, while the car will also be available with fixed batteries. A sportier, faster, Gordini derivative is expected to be added to the range in 2014. Later that same year will come a plug-in version of the next Twingo. This car will be made at the Revoz plant at Novo Mesto in Slovenia, as will a four-seater smart model that will share the powertrain of the Twingo Z.E.

As for Renault's rivals, Fiat has been notably quiet on EVs, though there has been a small production run of an experimental plug-in Palio in Brazil. The company will begin building the Fiat 500 EV in Mexico in 2012, with the majority of these cars expected to be sold in coastal US markets. Exports to Europe are due to follow in 2013. The batteries for the 500EV are to be provided by SM LiMotive, a joint venture between Samsung SDI and Bosch. While the pack is being developed in Orion, Michigan, the cells will be produced in South Korea with assembly to then take place at a facility in Springboro, Ohio.

PSA Peugeot Citroen, meanwhile, is for the moment leaving development of EVs to its partner Mitsubishi Motors, whilst hedging its bets with a few premium-priced plug-in hybrid models. The first of these, the 3008 HYbrid4 Plug-In, is due for launch in Europe in 2012. The technology is to be previewed at the Frankfurt motor show in a few weeks' time via the HX1 concept.

The dominant Europe-based manufacturer, Volkswagen Group, has been more cautious than some of its rivals, but a steady roll-out of EVs is due to commence in Germany (and China) from 2013. The first of these should be the up! Blue-e-motion and the Golf Blue-e-motion. The VW brand should begin selling a plug-in version of the La Vida sedan in China also in 2013, while VW of America is expected to launch a Puebla, Mexico-built Jetta EV for the 2014 model year.

In Korea, Renault Samsung Motors (RSM) is due to begin small-scale build of its first EV during 2012, with the model in question expected to use Renault-sourced technology. A prototype of an electric variant of the existing Samsung SM3 was revealed by RSM in November 2010. That car, incidentally, featured a quick-drop battery system.

Hyundai and Kia appear to be as cautious as their smaller Korean rival: Kia is due to launch the group's first plug-in product that could be called a series production model in the coming months. The car will be an EV version of the Morning (known as the Picanto in Europe and K2 in China) small car, with reports indicating that some 2,000 vehicles will be produced for the Korean market.

By contrast to the plans or RSM, Hyundai and Kia, the US-based big two have far more ambitious plans. GM has of course already blazed the trail for extended-range EVs with the Chevrolet Volt, and will soon start building the Opel and Vauxhall Ampera for export out of the Detroit-Hamtramck plant in Michigan to certain European markets. Another car to adopt the Volt and Ampera's Voltec powertrain will be the Cadillac ELR coupe, which is due for a US market launch in 2013.

As for pure EVs, GM is expected to launch a battery-electric version of its existing Sail small car in China in late 2011. The Sail EV should come down the same line as the combustion-engined model at the GM and SAIC joint venture plant at Dongyue in Shandong province.

In Europe, GM confirmed that Opel is also working on a plug-in car. This model, which will be smaller than the Ampera, is under development, the head of Opel, Karl Strache, told the German media in May 2011. That is likely to mean a plug-in version of the Agila successor, which should be made alongside the next Corsa at the Eisenach plant. This little car is expected to use GM's Gamma 2 architecture and to be called 'Allegra'.

Ford of Europe also has plans for a plug-in model but unlike GM, these are concentrated into one product that will be built and sold in two major regions. This car, the C-MAX Energi, will be made in both Michigan (Wayne Assembly) and Spain (Valencia). No launch date has been set for the US-built model but Ford of Europe will begin manufacturing the C-MAX Energi as well as a series hybrid variant from 2013. Like the Chevrolet Volt, the Energi can be recharged by either plugging the car in or else automatically by a gasoline engine that will fire up when the cells' stored power starts to run down.

Ever the conservative giant, Toyota is close to launching its first EVs but these will be built in only small production runs, for now. In North America, a partnership with Tesla Motors will see build of a plug-in RAV4 taking place at Toyota Canada's Woodstock plant from 2012, while a plant in Japan will supply an EV version of the iQ city car to some European markets from 2012. There will also be a variant of the iQ for Scion division in the US and Canada, while Aston Martin's variant of the iQ, the Cygnet, will also gain an electric variant from the second half of 2012.

Finally, China, the country where EVs could well have the biggest future if only the Beijing and regional governments would take a brave approach and begin serious investments in recharging networks for major cities.

To be fair, the Communist Party has provided generous incentives for buyers of EVs, while also making encouraging noises to state-owned firms and their joint ventures with foreign partners (SAIC and GM's Chevrolet Sail EV is a case in point). Yet consumers seem reluctant to splurge their savings on electric cars, and there are presently no concrete plans set out by any China-based manufacturer for large-scale electric car production. Even BYD, the company that has garnered much publicity for its existing small line of EVs, is now pulling back from its once ambitious future model plans for plug-in cars until the issue of infrastructure is solved.

Overall, no clear global leader has appeared, setting the standard for EVs in the way that Toyota pioneered hybrids almost 15 years ago now. Renault and Nissan have most likely invested the most amount of engineering resources and money into plug-in cars, and still the jury is out on whether or not buyers will embrace such models. Fortunately, as 2012 approaches, and with it, the launch of multiple EV cars and an expanding charging network in certain highly-populated parts of the world’s major markets, we shouldn’t have to wait much longer to see whether or not cars with cords are going to be a tiny niche or an ever-growing phenomenon.

The data table below has been extracted from just-auto's proprietary Production Life Database (PLDB). Currently, PLDB, which contains an extensive number of codenames for future EVs, also lists expected launch dates for such models. PLDB is updated daily and can be rapidly searched for details of over 1,500 current and future global vehicles, from 187 makes/brands and 99 vehicle groups.

BrandModelSegmentPlatformProduction Location
Aptera 2 Series City Aptera 2 Series Vista, California (USA)
Aston Martin Cygnet EV City Toyota NWC Takaoka (Japan) then Gaydon (England)
Audi A1 e-tron City A05 Audi Brussels, Forest (Belgium)
Audi A2 e-tron Small TBA TBA
Audi A3 e-tron Lower Medium MQB TBA
Audi R4 e-tron Sports TBA TBA
Audi R8 e-tron Sports LA2 TBA
BMW i3 City LifeDrive Leipzig (Germany)
BMW i8 Sports LifeDrive Leipzig (Germany)
BMW 5 Series Plug-In Hybrid Executive BMW L6 Brilliance BMW: TBA, Shenyang, Liaoning (China)
BYD F6 HD Upper Medium Honda Accord 6/7 Shenzhen (China)
Cadillac ELR Executive GM GCV (Delta 2) TBA (USA)
Chevrolet e-Spark or e-Beat Small Gamma 2 Talegaon, Maharashtra (India)
Chevrolet New Sail EV Small S 4200 Dongyue, Shandong (China)
Chevrolet Orlando E-REV Compact Minivan GCV TBA
Daimler-BYD TBA TBA TBA TBA (China)
Detroit Electric e46 Lower Medium MMC-VCC X40 Tanjong Malim (Malaysia)
Detroit Electric e63 Lower Medium MMC-VCC X40 Tanjong Malim (Malaysia)
Dongfeng Nissan Venucia EV TBA TBA TBA (China)
EBX Group TBA TBA TBA Super Port Açu, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil)
Emgrand Tiger/GT Plug-In Hybrid Sports Geely FD Ningbo, Zhejiang (China)
FAW Volkswagen Kaili EV Small TBA TBA (China)
Fiat 500EV Small New Small Toluca (Mexico)
Fisker Project Nina Executive TBA Wilmington, Delaware (USA)
Fisker Sunset Executive Fisker-Quantum Karma Valmet, Uusikaupunki-Nystand (Finland)
Ford C-MAX Energi Compact Minivan C2/C-Car Michigan Assembly, Wayne (USA)
Ford Focus Electric Lower Medium C2/C-Car Michigan Assembly, Wayne (USA)
Ford F-Series Plug-In Hybrid Pick-up F-Series Kentucky Truck, Louisville, Kentucky (USA)
Great Wall Voleex C20R Small Toyota NBC Baoding, Hebei (China)
Honda Fit EV Small Global A Suzuka (Japan)
Hyundai Toyota Prius Plug-In Hybrid rival Lower Medium TBA TBA
Hyundai i10 Electric City SA Chennai, Tamil Nadu (India)
Infiniti EV Lower Medium R-N P3/EV TBA
Jaguar C-X75 (plug-in hybrid) Sports TBA TBA
Kia Morning EV City SA Seosan, South Chungcheong (South Korea)
Land Rover Range Rover EV SUV TBA Solihull (England)
Lifan 520EV Lower Medium PSA ZX Chongqing (China)
Lifan 620EV Lower Medium TMC NCV Chongqing (China)
Lincoln MKC Electric Lower Medium C2/C-Car Michigan Assembly, Wayne (USA)
Luxgen EV+ Minivan Renault Laguna 1 San Yi (Taiwan)
Mazda Demio EV Small Ford B2E Ujina 1, Hiroshima (Japan)
Mercedes-Benz A-Class E-Cell Lower Medium MFA Rastatt (Germany) or Kecskemét (Hungary)
Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell Lower Medium MFA Rastatt (Germany) or Kecskemét (Hungary)
Mercedes-Benz S 500 Plug-In Hybrid Executive W222 Sindelfingen (Germany)
Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG E-Cell Sports W212 Magna Steyr, Graz (Austria); Affalterbach (Germany)
Miles Coda Lower Medium MMC-VCC X40 Harbin, Heilongjiang (China) then Los Angeles County (USA)
Mitsubishi i-Colt Small TBA TBA (Thailand)
Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV SUV TBA TBA
Nissan Cube EV Small Alliance A Oppama, Yokosuka (Japan)
Nissan Land Glider Small TBA TBA
Opel/Vauxhall Junior/Allegra EV City Gamma 2 Eisenach (Germany)
Peugeot BB1 City TBA TBA
Peugeot 3008 Plug-In Hybrid Crossover PF2 Sochaux or Mulhouse (France)
Pininfarina Bluecar Small Be Zero San Giorgio Canavese (Italy)
Porsche 918 Spyder Sports TBA Zuffenhausen (Germany)
Renault Fluence Z.E. Lower Medium R-N P3/EV OYAK-Renault, Bursa (Turkey)
Renault Twingo Z.E. Small Renault-Daimler TBA Revoz, Novo Mesto (Slovenia)
Renault Twizy Z.E. City Renault Twizy Valladolid (Spain)
Renault Zoé Z.E. City Alliance A Flins (France)
REVA NXG City NX Bangalore, Karnataka (India)
REVA NXR City NX Bangalore, Karnataka (India)
Riich G5 EV Upper Medium Daewoo V100/150 Wuhu, Anhui (China)
Riich M1 EV City TBA Wuhu, Anhui (China)
Saab 9-3 ePower Upper Medium GM Epsilon Trollhättan (Sweden)
Samsung SM3 EV Lower Medium R-N P3/EV Pusan (South Korea)
Scion iQ Electric (see Toyota iQ Electric)      
SEAT Ibiza EV Small AO5 Martorell (Spain)
smart forfour electric drive Small Renault-Daimler TBA Revoz, Novo Mesto (Slovenia)
smart fortwo electric drive City Renault-Daimler TBA Hambach (France)
Suzuki Swift EV Small S-2 Kosai (Japan)
Tata Motors Nano EV City X3 TBA
Tesla BlueStar Upper Medium BlueStar Fremont, California (USA)
Tesla WhiteStar (Model S) Executive BlueStar Fremont, California (USA)
Toyota iQ Electric City NWC Takaoka (Japan)
Toyota RAV4 EV SUV Camry 7/8 TBA
Volkswagen Golf blue-e-motion Lower Medium MQB TBA
Volkswagen Jetta blue-e-motion Lower Medium NCS Puebla (Mexico)
Volkswagen LaVida blue-e-motion Lower Medium NCS Shanghai (China)
Volkswagen up! Blue-e-motion City MHB TBA
Volvo C30 PEV Lower Medium Ford C1 Ghent (Belgium) then Gothenburg (Sweden)
Volvo V60 PEV Executive Ford C1/EUCD Torslanda, Gothenburg (Sweden)
Zotye 5008 EV Crossover TMC Terios Zhejiang (China)