Though U.S. consumers are buying electric vehicles at a record pace in 2016, plug-in market share remains around 1%. That means 99% of about 16 million cars and trucks Americans buy in 2016 will run on gasoline. Call it progress, but there is so much room to grow, especially if we want to meet climate change goals and control pollution on any meaningful level.
Electric cars in the pipeline from GM and Tesla ought to provide a big boost. However, for EVs to crack the mainstream on any significant level, there has to be a wide selection for consumers. Not everyone can afford a Tesla Model S, and some people have trouble charging vehicles on a regular basis. So we need more plug-in hybrids, more pure EVs at every price point, and more variations within every segment.
Looking at the market around the world gives us an idea what we’re missing. Here are seven foreign electric cars that could sell big in America.
1. Volkswagen Golf GTE
For a time, speculation was rampant about the possibility of a Ford Focus Energi. Imagine the high-volume compact car getting 20-25 miles of electric range before kicking into gasoline mode. It sounded like a winner but never happened; Golf GTE, a plug-in hybrid version of Volkswagen’s compact model, proves the concept works. Even at the steep price of $40,000 before incentives, a Golf GTE with about 20 miles of EV range is No. 5 on the list of best-sellers in Europe this year.
2. BYD Tang
The most glaring omission on the U.S. electric vehicle market is the lack of a reasonably priced plug-in hybrid SUV. There are costly models out there from luxury European brands, but range is minimal and sales are low. BYD Tang could change that dynamic: This plug-in SUV can achieve as much as 50 miles of electric range on foreign cycles and costs $48,000 before incentives. It also happens to be a beast with 500 horsepower — more than a Corvette — and can hit 60 miles per hour in five seconds flat.
3. Renault ZOE
U.S. consumers liked the original Nissan Leaf enough to make it the best-selling EV in American history. What if you doubled the range and kept the price reasonable? Nissan’s partner Renault did just that with the new Zoe. Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn unveiled the second-generation model capable of 186 miles on a full charge at the Paris Motor Show. It goes on sale in November and should be a precursor to the next Leaf. But a November arrival would beat even the Chevy Bolt EV to market.
4. BAIC EU260
The bustling Chinese EV market is full of models American consumers have never heard of (and likely never will). In the case of the BAIC EU260, this EV can cover 160 miles (European cycle) on a single charge and starts at $37,000 before incentives. Once government subsidies do their job, Chinese buyers end up paying less than $23,000. At that price point, U.S. buyers can barely get 80 miles of range. This model led the Chinese market with 3,800 units sold in September.
5. Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV
Anyone who has followed the wild history of the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV knows it might never come to America. As it stands, the model has been delayed between two and three years, depending on who you ask, and there was still no concrete release date seven months after Mitsubishi showed off its production model in New York. Overseas, it is a consistent top performer and led the European plug-in market for several years. Alas, it may have sold 100,000 models here.
6. SAIC Roewe 550e
The SAIC Roewe 550e is a plug-in hybrid rated at 37 miles of electric range on the European cycle and over 500 miles of range overall. Those specs are similar to the original Chevy Volt (with more total range) at a price of $37,000 before generous incentives. In the first nine months of 2016, Chinese consumers bought over 13,000 Roewe PHEVs, which would put it in the top three on the U.S. market.
7. BYD Qin
Last but not least, the BYD Qin brings performance (300 horsepower) and range (43 miles on foreign cycle) to a strong plug-in hybrid segment in China. Capable of hitting 60 miles per hour in six seconds, this PHEV would appeal to Americans based on performance alone. Throw in the green factor and we see many consumers choosing Qin over a lifeless gas car in the same price range. Qin would cost about $25,000 after incentives in many U.S. markets. More than 65,000 sold overseas since 2014.
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