Carmakers See Smaller as Better for Electric Cars

Small cars are only now beginning to gain traction in the United States—where pickup trucks, roomy sedans and towering SUVs have long dominated the consumer landscape. But with new demographic trends, such as populations becoming increasingly concentrated in cities, carmakers are anticipating a shift towards smaller urban commuter vehicles like the Honda Fit, Smart ForTwo, and Fiat 500.

Compacts and subcompacts usually offer a mix of fuel economy, affordability and versatility, and are often marketed toward young, urban customers who rarely need a family-hauler to get from Point A to Point B. As an added bonus, they also happen to an attractive platform for efficient energy-saving electric powertrains.

In just the last year, five such small cars with all-electric drivetrains have been released to the U.S. market—with a number of others available only overseas. The chief benefit of this marriage is that electric vehicle battery packs must be attached to cars that will maximize their range—making small, light, aerodynamic vehicles ideal for battery-powered efficiency.

Four of these five vehicles are among the most affordable electric vehicles on the market. The Chevy Spark and Fiat 500e—both of which are limited-market releases aimed primarily at California—carry electric ranges of above 80 miles and are available to lease starting at just $199 per month. The Smart ForTwo ED has a range of 84 miles and an MSRP of $25,000—minus the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs—or for lease at a cost of $139 per month for the car itself and $80 per month for the battery pack.

The Honda Fit EV, which has been praised as one of the zippier, more fun to drive EVs on the market, will set you back a little more, at $259 per month to lease. That vehicle is also available only in states that have signed on for the California Air Resources Board’s regulatory scheme, which forces carmakers to sell a minimum number of EVs. As a result, both the Fit EV and many of the other small electrics are often referred to as “compliance cars,” since there is no intention on the part of their makers to market them to the larger American public.

Finally, there’s the BMW i3, a brand new offering representing BMW’s first attempt at a production EV. The i3 isn’t cheap, starting between $41,350—or $45,200 for a version with a backup gasoline engine that extends the car’s range beyond the 80 miles available from its battery pack. But for the money, BMW is offering one of the most unique electric vehicle configurations on the market.

In addition to the option for consumers to choose between an all-electric or plug-in hybrid drivetrain, the i3 represents one of the most extensive deployments of carbon fiber available to mainstream consumers. The car’s strong, ultra-lightweight body allowed for BMW to forgo a B-pillar, giving the car a streamlined look.

Small cars are not for everyone, but for consumers who live in urban areas and don’t need a lot of car, they can be an excellent choice—a decision that gets even smarter from an environmental and economic point of view, if it’s powered by electricity.

Article by Brad Berman, appearing courtesy ebay Green Driving.

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