After years of uneven returns, the electric vehicle industry is officially here to stay. The same could not be said as recently as June 2013, when Reuters covered the bankruptcy of suppliers to the “failed” electric automaker Coda and warned of the “challenges of the ‘green’ car industry.” Bloomberg framed the story as another company to bite the dust in a line that included A123 Systems and Ener1 Inc., both makers of car batteries, in what was a “shrinking market,” per an article subheader. At the time, Tesla’s fame and fortune were unthinkable.
Less than a year later, the sales of plug-in electric vehicles were up 50 percent compared to 2013. That won’t end the tales an industry reliant on government subsidies and of vehicles comparable to ugly golf carts that populate the Internet. In fact, electric vehicles will be fighting an uphill battle for the foreseeable future. It’s a numbers game.
The vehicles themselves are sometimes to blame. From the world’s top automaker to its least worthy adversaries, some electric vehicles have been part of the problem rather than the solution. Here are seven cars that made things worse for the EV industry.
1. Cadillac ELR
The first electric Cadillac was based on the same power train as the Chevy Volt, yet it debuted with an MSRP of $75,995. That fact alone struck so many publications as ludicrous that a chain reaction of bad notices followed. A Consumer Reports staff member was quoted calling it “a $75K version of the Chevy Cruze.” That’s not nice.
These reactions dug a siginifcant hole for the ELR, giving GM a headache it could not have expected. Still, the moral of the story is simple: If you are going to build the first electric car in a luxury brand’s history, either make it an improvement upon everything else in the corporation’s past or don’t do it at all. Following the release of the ELR, GM appeared overmatched in the electric vehicle industry, which in turn gave skeptics another bit of ammunition to use against EVs.
2. 2012 Mitsubishi Mi-EV
In its list of “17 Worst Cars You Can Buy,” Edmunds.com dropped the hammer on the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, naming it the Worst Electric/Alternative-Fuel Car. Referring to the i-MiEV as “terrible” and “embarrassing to drive,” Edmunds suggested the car was best left for a retirement village with its “dime-store interior” and pricing that smacked of “cheapness rather than its value.” Worst of all, the i-MiEV offered electric vehicle haters a field day with golf cart comparisons.
3. Fisker Karma
Fisker delivered a high-performance green car with enviable looks and performance, but the effort to produce the Karma proved too much for the company to survive. Auto News reported a DOE contractor describing the Karma as “one of the most technically complicated vehicles to ever be designed for mass production,” but the bigger problem was the company overestimated revenues and its ability to produce the car on ambitious timelines.
As a result, the luxury hybrid electric cars missed deadline after deadline until the company went bankrupt. The $529 million line of credit from the U.S. DOE was the reason the story refused to leave the news cycle for months. Electric cars were routinely labeled expensive, impossible, and frivolous things for Hollywood celebrities, a reputation the industry has struggled to shake.
4. Coda Electric Sedan
Maybe the plan for Coda was to build an electric car — styling be damned — because it will sell to every green car booster in the United States. Skimping on style may be passable for cars with spectacular efficiency or rock-bottom prices, but the Coda electric sedans were neither. Mass layoffs and bankruptcy followed problems with safety features and nonexistent sales.
Business news outlets from Bloomberg to Reuters and Fortune pounced on the news of the failed electric automaker, warning of the perils of the green car business. The Coda seemed to confirm the worst thoughts imaginable about the EV industry. In short, it was the path to failure. Those were pre-Tesla days, to be sure.
5. Lexus LS 600h L
The Lexus LS 600h L was not a full-blown electric vehicle but a hybrid car bearing a combustion engine and electric motor. That should be noted above all. Still, it had that green car cache from the world’s top producer of hybrids. Unfortunately, Edmunds.com (in its list of “17 Worst Cars”) points out the hybrid bested the gasoline-powered LS 460 L by a single mile-per-gallon while offering less power and costing $25,000 more.
This premium was inexplicable to all concerned. Lexus managed to put a car on the market for $120,000 that had no apparent green credentials.
6. Th!nk City
Among cars that crushed the spirit of even the biggest EV enthusiast, the Th!nk City may have done the most damage. Outfitted with a power train capable of 50 horsepower and 66 lb-ft of torque when it debuted in 2011, a contemporary review from AutoblogGreen noted it was difficult to write about the Th!nk City without feeling like the whole thing was a hoax. For $35,495, owners of a brand-new Th!nk City got recycled body parts and a dreadful interior to complement the embarrassing power specs and performance.
Again, at a time when electric car makers were praying for good news, Th!nk City came along and got laughed out of the industry with its lackluster product. The automaker went bankrupt not once, not twice, but three times before it was all said and done. In retrospect, the “cute” exclamation point in the name didn’t help, either.
7. Chevy Volt
Is the Chevy Volt a lemon? No, it would be unfair to call this GM electric offering a terrible car. Then again, as the main electric vehicle on the market prior to the Chevy Spark EV (which no one knows is on the market), the Volt is a relatively weak product from the biggest automaker in the world at the time of the car’s development. It wasn’t until Tesla disrupted the industry that Dan Akerson, then chief executive, dedicated a task force to studying the EV maker in order to confront the challenge.
Since the debut of the Volt in 2010, the automaker has not managed to get the car’s electric range beyond 38 miles. In some respects, GM did improve the car’s exterior styling, interior, and technology. The only problem was it is called the Cadillac ELR and costs $75,000.