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What's the best electric car to buy for the average consumer?

2015 Chevrolet Volt (©General Motors) 2015 Chevrolet Volt (©General Motors)

By John Voelcker


Automotive journalists often use each other as information sources, or to get reality checks on new material.

Recently, a colleague asked, "If auto journalists had the choice of only driving electric, which production electric car would you purchase--and why?"

Which seemed like an excellent topic for an article on choosing battery-electric cars.

Below is our response, slightly edited for context. We highlighted several points.

(1) At the moment, many people view the Tesla Model S as the best electric car on the market. It's also very expensive, so eliminating it from the discussion makes sense it if your story is aimed at mass-market buyers.

(2) But, if your story IS aimed at mass-market buyers, you do them a disservice if you don't distinguish between (a) the handful of battery-electric cars whose makers are building them in volume, and (b) those that are strictly "compliance cars," sold only in California and a handful of other locations, in numbers just high enough to meet that state's zero-emission vehicle sales requirements.

The first group includes (alphabetically) the BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S.

The compliance cars are the Chevy Spark EV, the Fiat 500e, arguably the Ford Focus Electric, the Honda Fit EV (lease-only, now winding down), and the Toyota RAV4 EV (also winding down).

It's not yet clear whether the Kia Soul EV and Volkswagen e-Golf are compliance cars, or will sell only in similarly low numbers. Kia's refusal thus far to release sales figures is not an encouraging sign.

The Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive now sells only in those low numbers, as does the two-seat Smart Electric Drive (for different reasons).

For reference, compliance cars tend to sell in volumes of around 200 per month. The i3, Leaf, Model S (and also the Chevy Volt range-extended electric car) sell at rates five to 15 times as high.

If your target buyer plans to keep the car for several years, a compliance car almost surely poses greater servicing challenges than a volume EV.

(3) By far the highest-production electric car in the world is the Nissan Leaf, at more than 150,000 built globally and sales rates climbing.

Nissan is seriously committed to its battery-electric car in a way that only a couple of other makers are--and it's the leading volume entry in the segment.

Nissan dealers may also be, on average, more committed to the Leaf as a part of their lineup than are dealers for the much lower-volume or limited-distribution cars.

Dealers are their own separate story; the writer's hypothetical buyer may need preparations to withstand sales pressure NOT to buy a plug-in electric car, but instead to sign on the line for a similar-sized gasoline car.

Why? Because that's what the dealer knows, sells a lot of, and needs to move out of stock--today, right now--with a special deal just for you.

All of those factors together make the Nissan Leaf arguably the safest and smartest purchase by far.

(4) Finally, as several commenters point out, DC fast-charging is a must.

Five years hence, we'll likely have several thousand fast-charging sites in the U.S., most of them offering recharges using either of the two competing mass-market standards (CHAdeMO and CCS).

Every Leaf has CHAdeMO fast-charging capability, whether standard or optional. The Kia Soul EV (and the tiny, low-selling Mitsubishi i-MiEV) are the only other vehicles that can say that.

On the CCS side, the e-Golf and the BMW i3 have fast-charging standard or optional as well (so does the compliance-car Spark EV). And there will be many more to come.

Discuss.


This story originally appeared at Green Car Reports

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