Watch your back Nissan. The Leaf is about to get some competition.

November 14, 2011 | 11:40 am
Don Anair
Deputy Director & Research Director, Clean Transportation

I’m heading to the LA Auto Show next week and according to the show’s website, there will be at least seven battery-electric vehicles on display.  In looking over the list of all-electric vehicles (EVs), one thing became clear right away:

The Nissan Leaf is about to get some competition.

So far, Nissan’s Leaf has been all alone in the 5-passenger EV category. But that’s not going to hold true for much longer. At least two EVs at the show, both of which will be available to consumers in 2012, will be in direct competition with the Leaf, offering similar or greater range and seating capacity.  Here’s a quick look.

Ford Focus Electric

Photo: MSVG

The Ford Focus Electric, a 5-seater like the Leaf, looks like it will have similar range to the Leaf though official EPA numbers haven’t been released.  One major difference is the price. Ford just announced the Focus will be priced at $39,200, before incentives, compared to the Leaf at $35,200. Ford might be thinking that consumers will pay more for the Focus because it is equipped with a higher powered charger, meaning recharge times may be half that of the Leaf, with a full charge in 3 to 4 hours as opposed to about 7 hours for the Leaf with 240-volt charging. I’m curious to see what other features Ford will be offering to move EV buyers in their direction.

CODA Sedan

Photo: Tom Raftery

The big difference with the CODA sedan, besides CODA not being one of the major automakers, is the battery pack. CODA’s sedan will also be a five passenger vehicle, but its pre-incentive price of $44,900 in part reflects the bigger battery pack, which is 40 percent larger than that of the Leaf.

So the CODA sedan is expected to deliver significantly longer range on a single charge than the Leaf and will test EV buyer’s willingness to pay for those extra miles. Its higher powered charging similar to the Focus will help keep charging times lower as well when using 240-volts.

One thing is for sure, 2012 is shaping up to be a good year for consumers looking for an all-electric car, with a range of options expected. And the more EV choices for consumers, the better for the entire EV market.

It will be interesting to see how this early market competition plays out. How will automakers try to distinguish their EV offerings from their competition? What will be the most compelling selling points to consumers? Cost? Range? Recharging times?

Most importantly, will automakers continue to make the investments needed to move EVs into the mainstream?

The California Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) program, which has pushed automakers to invest in advanced, low-emission vehicle technologies over the past 20 years, is about to be revamped in the coming months. A strong ZEV program would help ensure automakers continue to deliver these cars to consumers.

But more on ZEV later. In the meantime, I look forward checking out these and the other EVs at the show to see what’s in store in 2012 and beyond.