Late last week a couple in Atlanta, Georgia became the first owners of the latest battery electric car to hit the roads, the 2011 Wheego LiFe. Handed over to commemorate Earth Day 2011, the small electric car which bears a passing resemblance to the 2011 Smart ForTwo electric drive is the first highway capable car from the small automaker.
But unlike other electric cars hitting the roads this year, the LiFe has a relatively short waiting list and to date has attracted very little in the way of media attention.
We’re not surprised. At $32,995 before federal and state tax credits, the two-seat car is more expensive than the base model five-seat 2011 Nissan Leaf and the four seat 2012 Mitsubishi i, both of which offer more luxurious specifications, higher top speed and better safety features.
So what do you get for the money? Impressive performance, perhaps?
Not exactly. As our John Voelcker found out last year, the diminutive Chinese-built LiFe had little to get him excited about. Noisy, bumpy and distinctly unrefined, the test car drew a brutal conclusion from Voelcker:
“It doesn’t have the fit, finish or driving quality of a 2011 Nissan Leaf or the Japense-market Mitsubishi “i” we tested two years ago. And it’s only got two seats, which condemns it to a tiny sliver of the U.S. new-car market.”
In other words, it faces some pretty long odds in getting a foothold in the competitive U.S. new-car market”
Wheego had one more trick up its sleeve though. At least, that’s what it said. Adamant it would ship the first LiFe a full two weeks before any mainstream production electric cars had hit the road, the company hoped it would have the competitive edge that comes with being first.
It didn’t happen that way. Just like Coda Automotive, whose Chinese-built electric sedan was delayed to market, Wheego’s own deadline came and went. In January Wheego President Jeff Boyd promised that the LiFe would be shipping to dealers across the U.S. by the end of the month.
We have to admit that having the first customer take delivery nearly three months after that date isn't a very promising start for the firm.
However, with over 500 claimed reservations, a 32 dealer network across the U.S. and presumably existing customers of the Whip, Wheego’s low-speed neighborhood electric vehicle wanting to upgrade to something faster, Wheego could make a name for itself within the niche market of a niche market.
While the Wheego LiFe may not be at the top of our list of electric cars we’d buy it does add another car to the marketplace for consumers to chose from.
And more choice is ultimately a good thing, isn't it? Let the consumer decide.