2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show
Just look at the last few months: We've seen Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] turning a profit, Coda Automotive filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and Fisker Automotive laying motionless, the industry ready to read the last rites.
And then there's Wheego.
Best known for its LiFe electric car, a kind of electric Smart Fortwo designed via an eyewitness and a police sketch artist, the company is actually still going.
And according to PlugInCars, Wheego even wants to bring out a new model, a $44,000 electric SUV.
Like the LiFe, whose body is shipped in from China and then filled with Lithium Iron Phosphate batteries (from where the LiFe gets its name), the new SUV will be based on SUV bodies imported from China.
The model is already undergoing crash testing in China, though Wheego has no precise date on when the model will hit the U.S.
"It is hard to fix a timeline on that", Wheego CEO Mike McQuary told PlugInCars. He did say, however, that Wheego's 25 dealers in 15 U.S. states (who knew?) are excited about the new model.
No sales numbers
Like many small electric automakers, the company isn't prepared to reveal just how many of its diminutive LiFe electric cars have been sold, costing $32,995 pre-incentives. That likely means it's a low number, but McQuary says the company has managed to survive as it hasn't overestimated demand for its products.
"We’ve always had a realistic expectation of what the market will be--we build a batch of cars and we sell them" he said.
Those realistic expectations mean Wheego is now well aware of its customer base--retirees. It was unexpected at first, says McQuary, but in retrospect it makes sense. They tend to live on a fixed income, there are typically only two people in the household, and often travel only locally.
McQuary seems to have his head screwed on, but Wheego still has the cards stacked against it.
The company got in there early, starting in 2009. Back then, electric pickings were sparse, and while the market is hardly bristling with electric vehicles today, there are certainly more available and many which make the Wheego LiFe's pricetag look a little optimistic.
One of those is the 2013 Smart Electric Drive--conceptually, the closest vehicle in the market to the LiFe. It starts at only $25,750 before incentives--$3,000 more for a convertible--but has the might of German giant Daimler behind it.
It's also significantly more pleasant to drive than the cheap-feeling LiFe we drove a few years back. Once the Smart goes on sale, will Wheego's market dry up?
Perhaps the SUV will strengthen Wheego's position, along with a recently-signed production deal in China.
Wheego seems to have carved its own little niche right now, but we've seen too many other electric automakers fall by the wayside to hold our breath this time around.