Wheego Electric Cars Fade From Market; China Is The Future, Company Says

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2013 Wheego LiFe electric car   [photo:Jen Danzinger]

2013 Wheego LiFe electric car [photo:Jen Danzinger]

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With hundreds of thousands of plug-in electric cars from established automakers (and Tesla) on North American roads, most earlier startup carmakers have now largely faded away.

One is Wheego Electric Cars, which took the same approach as Coda: Adapt a Chinese-built vehicle with a battery pack and electric running gear installed in the U.S.

Wheego is still around, it turns out--unlike the defunct Coda--but it's no longer selling cars.

DON'T MISS: 2011 Wheego Whip LiFe Electric Car: First Drive Report (Nov 2010)

A statement from Susan Nicholson, Wheego's vice president for electronics, said:

We are not making the Whip or LiFe any more, but still support and service the cars. We are working on two new models which will first be introduced in China, followed a few years later by introduction to the U.S. market.

Until that time, Wheego is now gone from electric-car buyers' radars.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

Last time we checked in, in May 2013, Wheego's two-seat low-speed Whip neighborhood electric vehicle and highway-capable LiFe--the same car with a larger battery and more powerful motor--were both still on sale.

The previous August, the LiFe had been granted a second set of safety exemptions by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

ALSO SEE: Driving Small Electric Cars: What It's Like In The Real World

Those allowed it to sell the LiFe despite the lack of an Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system. It also used only simple airbags, not more modern advanced designs that deploy at different strengths depending on the seat occupant's size and weight.

WheeGo Whip Photo by Rex Roy

WheeGo Whip Photo by Rex Roy

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Wheego's 2013 plans to import a second model from China, a compact crossover utility vehicle that would target a far larger market segment, never panned out.

Its 25 dealers in 15 U.S. states were said to be excited about the new model, but their hopes were dashed.

In the beginning, Wheego hoped to be the first maker to launch a modern, mass-priced electric car into the U.S. market. It was not to be.

The company shipped its first highway-capable LiFe electric car on Earth Day 2011, four month after the first Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt went on sale.

CEO Mike McQuary painted a bleak picture of the company the next month in an interview with industry trade journal Automotive News, saying Wheego was surviving "hand to mouth" while it sought $15 million in new capital.

RELATED: 'Not Dead Yet!' Wheego Still Selling Electric Cars (May 2013)

In that same month, May 2011, Germany seized a privately imported Wheego at the request of Mercedes-Benz parent company Daimler, which also owns the Smart brand.

Daimler alleged that the Wheego's Chinese makers had infringed on the design of the Smart ForTwo. That argument didn't hold water in China's courts, but it did in Germany, and the car was ultimately crushed.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

Two years later, while the company refused to disclose its sales--likely very low--it did say that its customer base included a large number of retirees.

It makes sense: They tend to live on a fixed income, with typically only two people in the household, and who often travel only locally.

MORE: Four Electric Cars To Avoid Buying Used (Get A Nissan Leaf!)

Two years later, however, a used Nissan Leaf is likely the go-to car for such buyers, rather than a low-quality two-seat electric car from an unknown brand.

The lesson, if there is one, is that starting a car company is very, very, very hard--and brutally expensive.

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

2011 Wheego Whip LiFe at 2010 Los Angeles Auto Show

Enlarge Photo

Tesla Motors remains in business, and is clearly the startup star of a much larger group of companies hoping to get a piece of the plug-in electric vehicle pie.

Most of those have failed, including Bright Automotive, Coda Automotive, Fisker Automotive, and others.

The remains of Fisker were purchased out of bankruptcy court by Wanxiang, which hopes to restart production of the range-extended Karma luxury sedan in the future.

Perhaps Wheego has succeeded simply by remaining in business at all.

[hat tip: Randall Hamlet]

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