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Electric Vehicles Off To A Rough Start: EV Sales Unimpressive In 2011

Steven Chu with a Chevy Volt

2011 was supposed to be the year the electric car went mainstream. Many major automakers have launched at least one electric vehicle (EV), including the Nissan Leaf, the Chevy Volt, and the forthcoming Tesla Model S sedan. EV charging stations have even been springing up in the United States in anticipation of the influx of new electric cars on the nation’s highways.

However, despite all the buzz surrounding EVs in 2011, actual EV sales have been unimpressive so far.

But in all fairness, the EV market has been plagued by a number of global setbacks that have contributed to its lackluster performance.

The Japanese earthquake and Tsunami delayed production of the Nissan Leaf, thus preventing customers from receiving their EVs on time. Then there were safety concerns regarding the Chevy Volt after post-crash analyses revealed the battery had a risk of catching fire. Chevrolet has downplayed the severity of the situation, of course, but fears over safety still linger in the minds of consumers.

And then of course there are the economic barriers to higher EV uptake. The initial price tag for electric cars is still higher than that of conventional vehicles, even though battery charging costs a fraction of what it costs to fill up a tank of gas. For instance, consumers compare the price of the Chevy Volt ($39,000) and the Chevy Cruze ($17,000) and have a hard time justifying the added cost, despite heavy government subsides upwards of $7,500.

However, EV supporters are still optimistic about the future of the EV market.

“The market is in its infancy, and was bound to stumble along the way,” said Michael Omotoso, senior analyst at LMC Automotive. “Kind of like a baby taking its first steps: He or she will stumble and fall several times before finally learning how to walk.”

Although 2011 was not as a big a year as EV manufacturers had hoped, 2012 is another year, and thus another opportunity to prove to consumers that EVs are a viable form of sustainable transportation. Sure the EV market got off to a rough start in 2011, but the focus should be on the way forward and how automakers can provide consumers with a superior transportation option.

EVs are new as a transportation choice and consumers still have many questions about the new technology. Emphasis needs to be placed on consumer education, increased product visibility, and how EVs can be the way forward in personal transportation.

What are your thoughts on the EV market? Would you buy an electric car?

Image CC licensed by US Embassy Sweden: U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu inspects the first Chevy Volt to arrive in Sweden in advance of sales to the Swedish public beginning in February 2012.

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