Wednesday, August 11, 2010

California Will Set The Tone On Electric Cars For The Nation

Submitted by SHNS on Wed, 08/11/2010
By MARK GLOVER, Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - The electric car future that seemed so exotic and so distant just a few years ago is here, and California will again set the tone for the industry and the rest of the nation.

Long the nation's top auto market -- 10 percent to 12 percent of new-car sales nationwide are made in California -- the state is even more of a leader in environmentally friendly vehicles.

"In California, you have the sheer numbers, but much beyond that is the high concentration of early adopters in terms of technology and environmentally friendly (auto) purchasers," said Jesse Toprak, analyst for Santa Monica-based

Better than one of every five Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid sedans sold in the United States is bought in California. From the vehicle's 2000 introduction through July, that's 231,399 and counting.

Electric autos are the next step in the evolutionary chain. Before the end of this year, two of the most promising will be in Golden State showrooms -- the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan Leaf.

General Motors just announced that its Volt plug-in electric hybrid sedan will be available in November, priced at $41,000.

California is ground zero in the Volt rollout. Motor Trend magazine calls the Volt "the most significant new Chevy ever" -- remarkable for a nameplate that birthed the Corvette, the Camaro and the Impala.

"It's not only important by itself, it's important for what that technology might mean to GM in the future," Toprak said.

"If GM can replicate the (Volt) technology into different categories of vehicles, including SUVs and trucks, that will be a game-changer."

An on-board 110-volt charger allows the Volt to be recharged externally from standard household power in about 12 to 14 hours. With a 240-volt charger, it will take four hours.

With a fully charged lithium-ion battery, the Volt can go 40 miles on electric power alone. Theoretically, if you have a 30-mile daily commute and recharge the Volt nightly, you won't use a drop of gasoline.

In a major advance from previous electric car technology, the Volt also goes long distance. When its battery runs low, a gas-fueled engine/generator extends driving range an additional 300 miles. The gas engine does not drive the wheels; it replenishes the battery.

The Volt also will have early debuts in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Michigan and Texas.

But the automaker considers the California introduction most critical.

Here's why: Rival Toyota's Prius had a whopping 54.9 percent share of sales in the state's hybrid segment in 2009, according to Lexington, Ky.-based Cross-Sell, which tracks the U.S. car market.

By comparison, GM's top vehicle in the segment, the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid SUV, had a 0.7 percent share.

Toyota also leads GM in overall car sales in California.

In 2009, out of slightly more than 1 million new-car title registrations statewide, including fleet sales, Toyota's market share was 24.5 percent. GM's share was 11.6 percent.

Simply put, GM is getting thrashed by Toyota in the nation's No. 1 car market. It's hoping to change that with the Volt.

The Volt, however, will not have a clear run of the field. The new Nissan Leaf five-door hatchback electric will roll into California within weeks of the Volt, probably in December.

The Leaf can be recharged only from an external power source, such as the 240-volt system, and it will have a range of up to 100 miles. At that point, you have to recharge it.

Starting at $32,780, a federal tax credit of $7,500 would drop the Leaf's price to $25,280. The same credit on a $41,000 Volt translates to $33,500. The Leaf's price could be further reduced by a $5,000 tax credit the state offers on all-electric vehicles. The Volt does not qualify due to its small gas engine.

GM has been slammed by some for pricing the Volt too high. Some auto analysts agree, but others say the Volt is fairly priced, given the time and technology invested by GM.

John O'Dell, senior editor of called GM's price "a bold one that will reward the company if it works, because it means the Volt likely will be sold for something close to what it costs to build and won't be straining GM's red-ink supply."

Beyond price, GM and Nissan are matching each other deal for deal: GM is offering a $350-a-month, 36-month Volt lease with $2,500 down. Nissan's Leaf lease offer is $349 a month over 36 months with $1,995 down.

Both automakers are offering eight-year, 100,000-mile battery warranties.

Must credit Sacramento Bee

From scrippsnews


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