Don't be fooled: only some electric cars are sold nationwide, even now Page 2

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2018 Nissan Leaf

2018 Nissan Leaf

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Hyundai, meanwhile, is only marketing and promoting the battery-electric version of the Ioniq compact hatchback in a handful of states, though it pledges the car is available for special order by any Hyundai dealer in the country.

Meanwhile, the Hyundai Ioniq Hybrid is by far the volume leader in the lineup and the version that gets all the marketing dollars.

For not only Toyota but also Ford, shoppers report that the company and its sales people in some regions continue to talk down the Prius Prime and Focus Electric.

While each car is nominally available in many areas, the reality may be that even if dealers have been certified to sell the cars, they may not keep them in stock or make them easily available for test drives.

Electric cars may sit at the back of the lot, salespeople may not know anything about them, or the dealer may not have sold one for months--meaning determined buyers may have to visit multiple dealers to buy one.

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Premium

2017 Toyota Prius Prime Premium

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More worrisome than you'd think

All of this concerns electric-car advocates just as it did in 2014. They suggest that happy talk about the many plug-in cars available often obscures the on-the-ground reality:

For huge numbers of buyers who don't live in California or the Northeast, there remain only a handful of electric-car options available.

While Tesla continues to garner huge attention for the success of its Model S in particular, the reality is that it's a luxury vehicle with a price starting at $70,000, or twice the average transaction price of new vehicles sold in the U.S.

MORE: New 2017 Nissan Leaf: More Details On New Styling, Range--And Infiniti Electric Too

The Tesla Model 3, meanwhile, is struggling into production (as previous Tesla cars have) and a new order placed today will likely take up to a year or perhaps longer to be fulfilled, depending where the buyer lives and which version is ordered.

A further challenge is that not everyone wants a compact hatchback, which defines both generations of Leaf, both generations of Volt, the newer Bolt EV, and the Ioniq Electric.

Also the Volkswagen e-Golf (on sale in only a handful of states), the BMW i3, and the Ford Focus Electric.

"I've been harping on this point and its ramifications publicly since 2011 at least," said advocate and consultant Chelsea Sexton: "As long as there are only three volume carmakers in the game, the market will inherently be limited."

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: consulting producer Chelsea Sexton

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No one single plug-in car

"Just as there is no single gas car for everyone, neither will there be a single plug-in--and for now, there are literally only one battery-electric vehicle (the Nissan Leaf) and one range-extended electric car (the Chevy Volt) under $50,000 available throughout the U.S."

The downsides to that reality are many: Analyst conclusions about market desire for, and viability of, plug-in electric cars is based largely on the sales of just a few models.

"While Leaf sales say a lot about the market appetite for the Leaf--or even perhaps for a compact electric car with 80 miles of range--the numbers say far less about the viability of electric cars in general," Sexton cautions.


2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - after delivery

2014 BMW i3 REx range-extended electric car owned by Tom Moloughney - after delivery

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More heads nodding

Three years ago, Sexton cited the only three electric cars—Leaf, Model S, Volt—offered nationwide, noting that the same three makers had electric cars on sale in 2010.

"Even that leaves out that in many places in the U.S.," she noted, "you'd have to buy a Tesla Model S sight unseen" unless you "traveled hundreds of miles to the nearest Tesla Store."

But Sexton suggests that industry and buyers alike are starting to recognize this limited reality.

"I see a lot more heads nod when I make such remarks these days," she said, three years ago.

Caveat emptor.


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