The Missing Electric Car Segment: Minicars At $15,000 Or So?


2011 Smart electric drive  -  first drive

2011 Smart electric drive - first drive

For the past few years, we’ve witnessed the success of low-volume, high-priced, highway-capable electric vehicles in the Tesla Roadster. 

We’ve also just recently seen the advent of medium-volume, medium -priced highway-capable electric cars like the 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011 Nissan LEAF. 

2012 Mitsubishi

2012 Mitsubishi

Other manufacturers have offered electric minicars--the Think City, 2010 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive, 2012 Mitsubishi "i", the Mini E, etc.--but all of these are priced higher than the Nissan LEAF, with its lease cost of just $349 per month (the purchase option most buyers will choose).

We’ve also witnessed the rise of two- and three-wheeled electric vehicles, predominantly in Asia, where two-wheeled transportation was and still is a cultural norm. 

The Brammo Enertia

The Brammo Enertia

These vehicles range from a simple bicycle with an electric pedal-assist motor, through all-electric scooters, up to the electric racing vehicles produced by Brammo, Zero Motorcycles, and many others.  These vehicles range from a few hundred dollars to over a hundred thousand dollars.

The electric-car market segment that is missing is the cheap micro-car, which Think, Smart, and Mitsubishi have targeted--but have missed in price by a long shot. 

I’m sure they thought they might be able to get the price down, as long as the volumes came up, but that chicken / egg strategy never works when you try to sell something very cheap for a very high price.

The best and only way to attack the low end of the electric car market is to enter through a parallel market that is already in high volume production.  I find it most likely that an existing dominant player in the electric scooter market will create an enclosed three- or four- wheeled electric micro car using components that they already make for their electric scooters. 

The Mavizen TT02

The Mavizen TT02

Motoczysz E1pc

Motoczysz E1pc

Additionally, partnerships between high-performance electric motorcycle manufacturers and existing microcar makers also have a shot at capturing this market. 

Currently, Mavizen and Motorczysz have announced partnerships with unspecified automakers. Mission Motors components appeared in a Honda CR-Z high-performance hybrid shown at the recent SEMA Show. A high-performance electric motorcycle drivetrain would translate into adequate performance in something small, like a microcar.

I expect buyers to ignore the current cars available from Think, Smart, Mitsubishi, and Mini, in lieu of similarly priced offerings from Chevy and Nissan, until electric minicars are offered at much lower prices of $15,000 to $20,000.

 
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