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Can U.S. Buyers Warm To Two-Seat Battery Electric City Cars?

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2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe electric car

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Is small the new large? In the next few months we’ll see three different electric vehicles hit the market from automakers keen to break into the city car market. 

But historically two-seat cars have made up less than 2% of total U.S. car sales. Why would an electric car be any different?  

We’re not convinced it will be. Taking the 2011 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, 2011 Wheego Whip LiFe and 2011 Think City into account, here’s why we feel two-seat city electric cars will remain something of a niche market. 

Limited Space

Don’t get us wrong. We’re fans of the go-cart like handling of the Smart ForTwo Electric Drive. For congested city streets its diminutive size and direct steering allow for swift progress while a high seating position gives great all-round visibility. But just like the Wheego Whip LiFe and Think City, the Smart ForTwo isn’t exactly all that versatile. 

For anything more than city commuting and the occasional long weekend out of town these vehicles are limited in their functionality. 

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

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Limited Speed

The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, Wheego Whip LiFe, and Think City are all technically highway capable. But with a top speed well below 70 mph and acceleration above 50 mph sluggish we don’t feel any of them are suitable for more than the occasional freeway blast. 

For those who live further out of the city, freeway commutes to work are part of the regular rhythm of daily life. Major cities like Washington D.C. rely on the network of freeways that circle it to get workers in from neighboring VA and MD. While each vehicle in question can handle the distances involved, none would comfortably survive freeway traffic.

Much More Available For The Same Price

The Think City is set to retail for around $34,000 before any state or federal tax credits are applied.  The Wheego Whip LiFe has just become commercially available for $32,995. The Smart ForTwo Electric Drive won’t be available yet to purchase, but expect to pay a total of $31,000 to lease the car over a 48 month period, before giving the car back. 

Think City

Think City

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For those taking note, the much larger, five seat 2011 Nissan LEAF retails for an MSRP of $33,720 before incentives. 

Ask most consumers to choose between a two-seat car and a five seat car of a similar price and they’ll choose the five seat model. Especially if it’s better equipped. 

Consumers Want a Good Deal

When it comes down to it consumers want a good deal. They want the best car they can afford for the money. If that means more seats, a higher top speed and better range then most will choose a 2011 Nissan Leaf or 2011 Chevrolet Volt over these two-seat cars. We think the average byer will choose a four or five seat EV owver these two-seat cars any day. Besides space, speed and cost, both Nissan and Chervolet offer better servicing and warranty than the much smaller Think or Wheego can. 

But if ease of parking, easy handling and compact dimensions are the major concerns then perhaps these cars stand a chance, but only as overly priced, under specced niche cars in an already small niche market.

Let the buyer decide.
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Comments (4)
  1. I think there is a market for them. I am one of the MINI-E drivers and as you know, it only had two seats. It's a fabulous car and just about all of the MINI-E trial lease participants love it and many, like myself have called or written BMW and asked if we could buy it from them. Unfortunately they will not sell them to us (at any cost!) and plan to expand the trial lease program to other countries when the US program ends in June 2011.
    However, the MINI-E isn't much like the cars you mentioned above. It has 204 HP and a 35kWh pack which is much bigger than the cars you mentioned. It is electronically governed to 95mph and gets there pretty quickly and is really a blast to drive. So much so that many of the people in the program have called it the best car they have ever owned or leased.
    Look at how many CRX's Honda sold in the late 80's, they were everywhere so two seaters can sell really well if they have the right stuff. A fun to drive, two seat EV with a hundred mile range would sell just fine if it was comparable to the MINI-E, and no the Smart, the Wheego and the Think are not comparable to the MINI-E, not even close.
     
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  2. We live rural, we would love to have an electric vehicle for commuting. Our daily commute into a city is 25 miles.
     
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  3. I find that a lot of people already think the Smart car is an EV.
    That aside, using an EV as the daily work commuter makes sense, especially if it is replacing a single commuter car. This obvioulsy would be a second (or third) car scenario. Two seaters don't really cut it as a primary car for families. For singles maybe, but they would have to be able to install a charge spot where they park at night, a limitation for most apartments and condos.
     
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  4. @ Tom - the CRX was indeed a two seater (occasionally a four-seater in some markets, though the back seats were hopeless!), as is the new CR-Z. Another 2-seater of note is the Mazda Miata. The common theme in all of those? Driving fun. If an EV came out with 2 seats that was sufficiently good fun to drive, like your MINI, then I see no reason why it wouldn't sell nicely - price permitting, of course!
     
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