The sexy electric Roadster by Tesla Motors has been getting a lot of attention ever since the first photos came out a few years ago. Part of that attention comes from its looks, which were different from most electric cars that came before, but what’s under the hood is just as interesting.

Tesla Roadster Electric Car Photo


BYD is a huge Chinese battery maker who recently started making plug-in hybrids and electric cars. Despite delays some delays in introducing EVs to the US, it is on track to become a big player in the next few years. The electric E6 pictured here is BYD’s battery-powered crossover. There’s also the BYD F3DM and F6DM.

BYD E6 Electric Car photo
The XS500 by the Miles Automotive Group is expected to be a highway-capable electric car sold for $30,000-35,000 in the United States around 2009-2010.
Miles XS500 EV Electric Car photo
the i MiEV by Mitsubishi is a small battery electric car that has got a lot of press lately. Mitsubishi has announced that it would start producing it a year in advance (2009 instead of 2010), and 2,000 i MiEVs will be made in the production run.
Mitsubishi i MiEV electric car photo

The R1E is a small urban battery electric car by Subaru. It was recently tested around New York City.

Subaru r1e electric car photo
The EV1 is now almost a legend, partly because it was one of the first electric cars that the average person could actually drive, and partly because of GM’s campaign to destroy them (see Who Killed the Electric Car?). Recently an EV1 that avoided being crushed was sold for $465k.
GM EV1 Electric Car photo
The REVA (known as the G-Wiz i in the UK) is a small city electric car from India. It’s not the most high-tech EV, and at 745 kg (1,640 lb), it’s definitely not the biggest. But it’s been in production since 2001 and the new version features an improved range.
REVA electric car photo
The ZENN (Zero Emission, No Noise) is a 2-seater neighborhood battery electric car. It has a range of up to 40 miles (64 km) and does not exceed 25 mph (40 km/h). This green car has been in production since 2006.
ZENN EV Electric Car photo
The Tango is an ultra-narrow electric sports car built by Commuter Cars. It sells for an eye-popping $108,000 (you could get a Tesla Roadster for that kind of money), and it is better known as “that electric car that George Clooney drives“. It can do 0-60 mph in 4 seconds.
Tango Electric Car photo
The Aptera 2e (formerly the Typ-1e) is a super-efficient electric vehicle designed be Aptera motors, and it probably has the most avant-garde look of all electric cars featured here. The company also plans a plug-in hybrid version that would get about 300 MPG if plugged in every 120 miles. Google has invested money in the company. The all-electric model will sell for $27,000 and the series plug-in hybrid version will sell for $30,000.
Aptera Electric Car photo
The GM Volt is a “range-extended” electric car is scheduled for 2011. It should be able to drive 40 miles in all-electric mode before a gas engine kicks in to recharge the batteries. More information and photos about the Volt can be found here.
GM Volt plug in electric car photo
Like the GM Volt, the Fisker Karma is a “range-extended” electric car. Its all-electric range is 50 miles, and over that a gas engine kicks in to generate power and recharge the batteries. Fisker has recently opened an engineering center near Detroit
Fisker Karma plug in electric car photo

In the fall of 2008 Chrysler unveiled three electric car concepts, saying that it would produce one. The first is the Dodge EV, an electric sports car.

Dodge EV electric sports car photo


A consortium of 14 U.S. technology companies is seeking $1 billion in federal aid to build a factory to manufacture advanced electric car batteries, according to a report Wednesday night by The Wall Street Journal.

Aiming to catch up to Asian battery producers that already dominate the market, the National Alliance for Advanced Transportation Battery Cell Manufacture is described as the most ambitious effort to date to meet automakers’ increasing demand for lithium-ion batteries. The report noted that U.S. automakers such as GM and Ford plan to roll out plug-in electric cars by 2010, but that the U.S. lacks sufficient facilities to produce the lithium-ion batteries those cars require.

Batteries are the most expensive component in plug-in electric vehicles, a market being pursued by a few U.S. companies. But battery makers and analysts say that U.S. manufacturers lack the financial means to meet the anticipated demand of electric cars.

Last week, former Intel CEO Andy Grove joined other Silicon Valley elites in advocating for an industry shift into energy technology. Grove told the Journal that he is urging Intel to invest in battery manufacturing as a way to diversify from its core chip business.

Grove said Intel’s “strategic objective is tackling big problems and turning them into big businesses.” He said Intel, with its cash resources, can invest in battery technology and manufacturing to bring down the cost of car batteries, which would drive adoption of plug-in electric cars.

Toyota Motor Sales announced an expanded commitment to electric vehicles on Saturday, disclosing plans to manufacture an all-electric city car by 2012 and a wider fleet of gas-electric hybrids.

At the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, Toyota showed off a concept car called the FT-EV, a battery-powered four-seat compact car. Although it’s concept car, Toyota said it will release an “urban commuter” electric car in 2012.

Based on an existing car sold in Japan called the iQ, the FT-EV runs entirely on batteries and has a range of about 50 miles. Like many all-electric cars planned for release in the next few years, the FT-EV is designed for commutes and short trips, potentially as a second car.

In a statement, Toyota Motor Sales’ group vice president of environmental and public affairs Irv Miller said that even though gasoline prices have dipped substantially in the past half year, the auto industry should focus on fuel-efficiency.

“We must address the inevitability of peak oil by developing vehicles powered by alternatives to liquid-oil fuel, as well as new concepts, like the iQ, that are lighter in weight and smaller in size. This kind of vehicle, electrified or not, is where our industry must focus its creativity,” he said.

A number of auto companies, including Mitsubishi, Nissan, and Think, plan to bring out small all-electric cars in the next two years. The commitment of Toyota–maker of the iconic Prius hybrid car–adds more validity to the small electric commuter car category.


Toyota’s FT-EV, a concept car that will be the basis for an all-electric commuter car due in 2012.

(Credit: Toyota)

Still, Toyota said the the gas-electric powertrain of the Prius represents its “core” technology because it can be used with larger vehicles.

On Sunday, the company said that it will move up its previously announced plan to test plug-in hybrid cars using lithium-ion batteries. Current Priuses use Nickel-metal hydride technology but most auto makers are pursuing lithium-ion chemistry for an upcoming wave of electric cars.

At the end of 2009, it will begin testing a fleet of plug-in electric Priuses using lithium-ion batteries. Of the 500, 150 will be made available to U.S. customers for lease.

Toyota’s goal is to sell one million gas-electric hybrids a year in the early 2010s. It will have 10 new hybrid models in that time, including the third-generation Prius and the Lexus HS250h, both of which it introduced this week in Detroit at the NAIAS.

Automakers may be pushing forward on plans to introduce plug-in vehicles within the next few years, but the drive toward electric transportation could hit a yellow light if the grid isn’t prepared to handle the extra load. And it’s not just about having enough power generation to support the charging of hundreds of thousands of cars plugged into a wall socket.

David O’Brien, president and chief executive officer of Toronto Hydro Corp., said the wires in distribution networks can behave in strange ways when major changes are introduced to the system.

“I’m going to be the first guy in line to buy an electric car, and by God it’s about time,” he said. “But people forget that our electricity system is designed around what we do today. It’s not a forward-thinking grid.”

For example, during the hottest days of the summer, power lines can overheat and short out unless they get a chance in the evening to cool down, which tends to be the case overnight when there’s a smaller load on the system.

“If we start plugging in a bunch of cars overnight then you don’t let the system cool down enough,” O’Brien said. He added that the overnight load will get even greater as the province moves to time-of-use power pricing and more people have an incentive to run power-hungry appliances at night.

It’s not a showstopper, he said, but an example of what needs to be considered as we move toward electric transportation. Companies such as General Motors, Toyota, Nissan and Ford have all announced plans to come out with plug-in cars within the next few years.

“We’ve got a couple of years now to get the industries together and start talking about how we’re going to make it work.”

Included in this discussion should be ways to allow more small-scale renewable energy, such as solar and wind, onto a grid that was designed to push electricity to consumers – not take it from them, O’Brien said. “We have to rethink our whole transmission and distribution systems,” he said.

Even before these trends take hold, Toronto Hydro has been seeing an increase in the frequency and duration of outages in pockets of its network, mostly in Scarborough, Etobicoke and North York.

O’Brien said 35 per cent of the utility’s network is “beyond its life expectancy.”

A $1.3 billion, 10-year rebuilding plan approved by the Ontario Energy Board will bring that figure down to only 25 per cent. Getting it to 10 per cent will take several billions of dollars, he added.

Alongside this renewal, Toronto Hydro is also preparing its customers for the introduction of time-of-use pricing in 2009, when electricity use during peak times will cost a premium and off-peak use will be rewarded with a discount.

The idea is to encourage people to shift electricity use from peak to off-peak times so overall demand is more evenly distributed throughout the day and the grid operates more efficiently. The utility has so far installed 550,000 “smart meters” and is reading information from about 400,000 of them.

A year from now all 670,000 meters will be installed and operational. Some customers are already being directed to a website that lets them get a sense of what their hydro bill will look like once time-of-use rates are formally introduced.

“I think 2009 will be a very interesting year,” O’Brien said. “We’ll do a pilot project starting with 10,000 customers and over a period of time transition them (to time-of-use pricing). It will be an evolutionary process, but I see next year as the big start.”


The F3DM is based on BYD’s F3 (shown here). While it may look generic, the car’s technology as a plug-in is innovative.

(Credit: BYD Auto)

BYD Auto’s plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, the F3DM, is now on sale in China, the company announced this week at a press conference in Shenzhen, China.

The F3DM, which will retail for 149,800 yuan ($21,200), can travel 100 km (63 miles) on its battery before needing to be recharged, according to BYD Auto.

The car can be plugged in to any average Chinese 220-volt wall outlet to be recharged.

While there are other plug-in electric hybrid cars available for sale, BYD Auto’s F3DM is the first one in China to be mass-produced and, therefore, widely available to the general public, according to both BYD and The Wall Street Journal.

BYD Auto told reporters at the press conference that it expects to sell 350,000 F3DM cars in 2009. It also plans to launch an all-electric vehicle in 2009.

BYD Auto is not 100 percent Chinese-owned.

In September, Berkshire Hathaway CEO Warren Buffet announced that MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, had bought $230 million worth of stock in BYD, giving it a 10 percent interest in the company.

Average Americans may also soon have a chance to buy a piece of BYD. The company also announced that it plans to begin exporting the F3DM to the U.S. in 2010.

Many automakers, including General Motors and Toyota, have been working on plug-in electric vehicles for mass production. All have said that the battery technology for this type of vehicle has been the most challenging aspect of the development process.

It should be no surprise then, that the Shenzhen, China-based company which is now a major player in the Chinese auto industry, started out in 1995 as a cell phone battery manufacturer.

Despite the obvious economic crises faced by many automakers, 2008 has also been a year of innovative firsts finally being brought to the mass market.


In June, Honda began selling the FCX Clarity, the first commercial production car to run on electricity from a fuel cell battery powered by hydrogen fuel. While not truly available for mass consumption, the car is available for lease in parts of California and Japan.

This year also ushered in the birth of the first chain of electric battery exchange stations. Better Place signed deals with Australia, the California Bay Area, Hawaii, and Japan to build stations where electric vehicles could stop to swap drained car batteries for fully charged ones.