In the last of a three-part series for just-auto, Glenn Brooks looks into the future of plug-in vehicles in the world’s major vehicle markets

Despite the world’s first mass-produced electric car, the Nissan Leaf, now being only a few months from launch, the jury remains out on whether or not consumers will embrace the new generation of EVs. General Motors, which has largely eschewed battery-electric cars in favour of its rival Voltec gasoline-electric powertrain, thinks range anxiety will weigh too heavily on the minds of most consumers. Perhaps both technologies will find their own large niches but it is nevertheless striking that the majority of the world’s OEMs seem to be backing EVs over plug-in hybrids.

The Leaf is but the first electric model from what will soon be an ever-increasing range of EVs to be launched by the various brands of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. Both Nissan and Renault plan to launch plug-in light commercial vehicles in early 2011, to be followed by a new generation of passenger EVs.

One of the most interesting electric cars under development by Nissan is the Land Glider. To be launched in 2012 as an alternative to future models such as the smart fortwo ED, this new small city commuter was revealed as a concept at the Tokyo motor show in October 2009. Unlike the Leaf, the Land Glider will have its own bespoke platform so expect innovations in terms of battery location and lightweight construction. Infiniti’s first EV, which is also due in 2012, is expected to be based on the Leaf and so is somewhat less radical in appearance than the Land Glider.

While Infiniti will be one of the first premium brands to bring a plug-in car to market, BMW will not be far behind. Its so-called ‘Megacity’ project will see a highly advanced city car launched in 2013, with a near-production model due to be revealed at the London Olympics in 2012 (BMW Group vehicles will be the official cars of the Games).

The Megacity, which, after the release of 500 units of an electric Mini in 2008/2009, will be the second vehicle in BMW’s Project i plug-in car programme. BMW Group has already named SB LiMotive as its battery partner for the new model. This is a 50-50 joint venture between Bosch and Samsung SDI and is the same firm that controls the supplier to GM's Volt and Ampera projects, Cobasys.

While so much of the investment surrounding future EVs centres on the technology in the battery cells, BMW believes the construction of electric cars is equally crucial to tackling the ongoing issue of vehicle range. It is for this reason that a joint venture has been agreed with specialist firm SGL to make carbon fibre-reinforced plastics for the Megacity car's panels at BMW’s Landshut plant in Germany. A second plant, specifically built for the manufacture of carbon fibre components, will be erected at Moses Lake in the US state of Washington.

According to BMW and SGL, the main reason for using carbon fibre, which is 50 percent lighter than steel, is to reduce the size and cost of the car's batteries. The powerpack to be supplied by SB LiMotive for the Megacity is expected to be a 96-cell lithium-ion unit. By contrast, BMW Group’s experimental Mini-E, 500 of which were built, runs on a bank of 5,088 cells similar to those which power laptops.

Like BMW, Audi has chosen to make its first EV model a showcase for lightweight construction. The R8 e-tron, a plug-in supercar, was revealed in prototype form at the Frankfurt motor show in September 2009. The concept’s four motors produced a claimed 230kW, with Audi also stating that the car's range was 248km, its top speed 200km/h and its weight, 1,600kg. The chassis of the production model, which should be on sale in late 2012, should be an aluminium spaceframe design with composite body panels attached. After the R8 e-tron, a smaller R4 e-tron should follow, as well as an electric version of the just-launched A1 city car.

Of course, not every Europe-based major manufacturer sees EVs as high-priced models. Renault is a case in point. Its forthcoming Fluence Z.E, due for launch in 2011, will be the first car to have been designed for the Battery Swap technology pioneered by Better Place, a partner of both the Renault-Nissan Alliance and China’s Chery Auto. The Fluence Z.E., which will be marketed as an affordable family car, will be manufactured in low-cost Turkey.

Better Place is currently setting up national ‘Quickdrop’ robotised battery swap station networks in Israel and Denmark for the Fluence Z.E., with Renault having stated that it hopes to sell a combined 100,000 units of the vehicle in these two pioneering countries by 2016. The car will also be available with fixed batteries for home recharging via a conventional socket or fast-charger.

Other major OEMs have less ambitious plans than Renault and Nissan but even these may change if cars such as the Leaf and Fluence E.V. begin to find mass acceptance. Ford, for example, says it will build what it terms a ‘BEV’ (Battery Electric Vehicle) version of its third generation Focus in the USA, while another vehicle on the same platform, the C-MAX PHEV (Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle), is due to be launched by Ford of Europe from 2013. There will be exports of the latter to the US market.

As for the future EV model plans of the various major Chinese OEMs, some seem far more realistic than others. BYD launched the country’s first serious EV earlier this year. Its next model, the F6 DM, is due to follow in the coming months. Like the Chevrolet Volt, this car is not strictly speaking an EV as its powertrain will consist of electric motors that are charged by either on-board batteries or, should these be exhausted, by a back-up (1.0-litre) gasoline engine. BYD says the battery pack contains 100 iron-based self-developed batteries, as these are less expensive to manufacture than lithium units.

Even though BYD shows much promise, it still has a long way to go before it catches up with the technology and manufacturing lead held by not only the likes of Nissan, BMW and Renault but also other, newer players such as Tesla. This Silicon Valley start-up, which has a whole family of future plug-in models in the pipeline, is worth keeping a very close eye on. The very fact that this hugely ambitious little company plans to start mass production of EVs in a shuttered GM & Toyota joint venture plant speaks volumes for the pace of change and reinvention that is underway in the global car industry.

Data in the table below, which lists details of over 60 future EV models, has been extracted from just-auto's proprietary Production Life Database (PLDB). Currently, PLDB has 1506 models from 195 makes/brands from 127 groups.

BrandModelSegmentPlatformProduction Location
Aptera 2 Series City Aptera 2 Series Vista, California (USA)
Audi A2 e-tron Small TBA TBA
Audi R4 e-tron Sports TBA TBA
Audi R8 e-tron Sports LA2 TBA
BMW Z10 ActiveE Sports TBA TBA
TBA (BMW Group) Megacity City TBA Leipzig (Germany)
BYD F6 HD Upper Medium Honda Accord 6/7 Shenzen (China)
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
Detroit Electric e46 Lower Medium MMC-VCC X40 Tanjong Malim (Malaysia)
Detroit Electric e63 Lower Medium MMC-VCC X40 Tanjong Malim (Malaysia)
Emgrand Tiger/GT Plug-In Hybrid Sports Geely FD Ningbo, Zhejiang (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 PHEV Compact Minivan C2/C-Car Valencia (Spain)
Ford Focus BEV Lower Medium C2/C-Car Michigan Assembly, Wayne (USA)
Hyundai i10 Electric City SA Chennai, Tamil Nadu (India)
Hyundai Chevrolet Volt rival Lower Medium TBA TBA
Infiniti EV Lower Medium R-N P3/EV TBA
Kia Venga EV Small MC HMMC, Nosovice (Czech Republic)
Land Rover Range Rover EV SUV TBA TBA
Lifan 520EV Lower Medium PSA ZX Chongqing (China)
Lifan 620EV Lower Medium TMC NCV Chongqing (China)
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 EV/TRIXX EV City Gamma 2 Eisenach (Germany)
Peugeot BB1 City TBA TBA
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 Zoé Z.E. City Alliance A Flins (France)
REVA NXG City NX Bangalore, Karnataka (India)
REVA NXR City NX Bangalore, Karnataka (India)
Riich M1 EV City TBA Wuhu, Anhui (China)
Riich G5 EV Upper Medium Daewoo V100/150 Wuhu, Anhui (China)
Saab 9-3 EV Upper Medium GM Epsilon Trollhättan (Sweden)
Samsung EV Lower Medium R-N P3/EV Pusan (South Korea)
smart fortwo electric drive City Renault-Daimler TBA Hambach (France)
smart forfour electric drive Small Renault-Daimler TBA Revoz, Novo Mesto (Slovenia)
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 TBA
Volvo S100 Plug-In Hybrid Executive TBA Torslanda, Gothenburg (Sweden)
Zotye 5008 EV Crossover TMC Terios Zhejiang (China)


See also: August management briefing - Hybrids and EVs parts 1 and 2