Electrics at this point would appear bound for a niche market, hardly living up to President Obama's pledge to encourage their proliferation to about 1 million plug-ins on the road by 2015.
That prospect had gop.com's research division saying: "Another day, another broken promise from President Obama."
And Fisker, the manufacturer of the much-ballyhooed Karma and recipient of a half billion-dollar U.S. Department of Energy loan, has announced layoffs after issuing recalls in prior weeks of its more than 200 cars sold. John Voelcker of greencarreports.com says Fisker and fellow electric car builder Tesla are vulnerable to the same type of criticism surrounding failed photovoltaic panel manufacturer Solyndra, which also was on the DOE's loan llist.
None of that taint appears to have landed on Tesla, which is coming off a raft of positive press with increased sales, a deal with Daimler for an electric Mercedes-Benz and the debut of its electric SUV, the "Falcon Wing" Model X. If this latest round of news is any indication, the appetite for electric cars may prove more robust as consumer options and infrastructure to keep the cars charged increase.
The sector remains unproved. Tesla, despite its evolution, continues to lose money. But revenue is increasing. Chairman Elon Musk says in the company's 8K report to shareholders that "net losses will continue as planned until we reach volume sales of Model S in 2013."
The Model S is a high-end family sedan built in Tesla's Fremont, Calif. factory. The price is expected to be somewhere north of $60,000. Musk says about 8,000 orders for the car have been placed so far. It accelerates from 0-60 mph in about 4.5 seconds, which is faster than my friend Al's built-up 1977 Trans Am.
The Model X is a media darling, getting coverage all over the Web and in the automotive press. Huffingtonpost.com's Sharon Silke Carty says it "has struck a chord with wealthy, environmentally conscious customers" who snapped up about 500 reservations after its recent debut.
Production is expected to begin in late 2013 with customer deliveries starting in early 2014, Musk says. Volume is targeted at 10,000 to 15,000 units per year.
EV sales lackluster
EV sales currently are dominated by General Motors and Nissan. The Volt closed out 2011 with a minor sales flurry. It sold 7,671 units for the year, with more than 1,500 of those in December, according to figures compiled by Martin LaMonica of cnet.com.
Nissan sold 9,674 units of its all-electric Leaf, with 954 of those in the final month of 2011, according to goodcarbadcar.net.
Other nameplates sold fewer cars.
Electrics find a place
But battery power is making headway on the highway. At least in California, the cars have become more commonplace. The other morning as rain pelted me in the health club parking lot, a Leaf quietly rolled past. The thing moved like an oddly shaped ninja. And all lit up in the darkness, it even looked graceful.
Soundless electrics certainly would reduce road noise, until a Harley with straight pipes pulls up alongside.
Gas prices make a difference
Gas prices, which could push $5 per gallon this summer, may influence some buyers. Oil-price.net reports oil per barrel prices above $100 for West Texas Intermediate and its one-year forecast price climbing $20. That's not a big deal. Crude prices have hovered around the centennial mark for a couple years now.
But it's the rapid rise nationally in gas prices in the first months of the year that has some worried about what the summer holds. Summer is usually when more people are on the road and prices increase at the pump.
Ronald D. White of the LA Times quotes analyst Brian L. Milne as saying the early increase may point to higher prices later in the year. "There's a chance that the U.S. average tops $4 a gallon by June, with some parts of the country approaching $5 a gallon," Milne says.
Nothing inspires change like price increases. Of course, electric cars remain very expensive.
Hydro Gene makes a prediction
Automotive enthusiast and hydrogen energy activist Gene Johnson says as long as the price point for electric cars sits so far above the average consumer's means, the segment will remain somewhat exclusive. Johnson, a big clean energy proponent in California's San Joaquin Valley, offers a better method -- retrofits.
He and some friends took a Toyota RAV4, removed its gas-burning stock engine and replaced it with an electric drive train. They sold it on eBay for more than $20,000, easily covering the retrofit cost with a tidy profit.
He says that's the way to go. Johnson predicts more companies will enter the conversion business. He even goes so far as saying Fresno would be a great place to start.
Solar shoulders in
At some point, on-board solar may play a role in recharging electric cars.
The solar-powered SolarWorld GT started the U.S. leg of its round-the-world trek at the University of California, Santa Barbara and plans to drive across the country, according to gizmag.com. The car, a collaboration between solar panel manufacturer SolarWorld, and Bochum University of Applied Sciences in Germany, is hardly a production vehicle.
But its sojourn may be the start of something. The car and its team are to head to Florida, where the GT will be shipped across the Atlantic Ocean to continue driving across Europe, Asia and Africa and back to Darwin, Australia. Assuming the car returns, "it will set the Guinness Record for the longest distance covered by a solar car -- approximately 34,000 kilometers, or 21,080 miles," Ben Coxworth writes.
Such accomplishments are but interesting footnotes. However, should solar panels some day be incorporated cheaply into a car's surface and still be efficient enough to provide a continuous charge, there's no stopping the electric car.
Photo: SolarWorld GT race team.