The first generation of electric vehicles is tough to analyze. After all, some automakers did not give these products their best shot, choosing instead to meet basic zero-emissions requirements so they could sell more gas guzzlers. As a result, we got cars with so little power and range that most people never considered them. Hence the early reputation of EVs as boring and slow, which Elon Musk set out to change with Tesla. (It’s safe to say he succeeded.)
Nonetheless, the U.S. market is still dealing with the aftereffects of this first wave of electric cars. Whether or not they were made as compliance cars to satisfy regulators, some of these EVs were legitimate failures from every aspect of the equation — sales, performance, and impact on their respective brands. Here are five models that were total flops.
1. Coda Electric Sedan
Whatever way you describe this car, “cool” is not an adjective you’re allowed to use. The frumpy Coda Electric Sedan hit the market in March 2012 and sold a total of 117 units before the company filed for bankruptcy. Capable of traveling 88 miles on a full charge, it was actually one of the longest-range EVs when Coda entered the scene. However, at a price of $37,250, consumers could not fathom compromising on styling, power, and cost.
2. Smart fortwo electric drive
For a generation weaned on Viagra commercials promoting a solution for “ED,” the association did not do wonders for the half-pint Smart Electric Drive, which went by the same abbreviation. Then again, this two-seat electric car didn’t have great specs for consumers looking to leave gas pumps behind. Capable of traveling only 68 miles on a full charge, the Smart fortwo ED never really had the ability to go beyond 30 miles in one direction. Oh, and it maxed out at 74 horsepower.
But the real kicker came with charging. If you wanted to replenish the battery, you could not fast-charge Smart’s electric car, and it would take over 6 hours to get the battery to 100%. What’s the pitch, exactly, for this car? In its peak year (2014), Smart ED sold 2,594 units, or about 215 a month. Maybe the strangest part is the updated model, which improves only slightly on range (by 10%) and cuts charging time down to 3 hours. We hope those zero-emissions credits are worth it.
3. Cadillac ELR
While it was always difficult to picture a Cadillac driver in an electric car, GM made it impossible with the ELR. Powered by a similar drivetrain as the original Chevrolet Volt, this pricey plug-in hybrid coupe puzzled reviewers and consumers alike. In one of the best contemporary burns, a Consumer Reports staffer labeled it “a $75,000 Chevy Cruze.” At its peak (2014), ELR sold just 1,310 units, or about 100 a month. Biggest question: Why would anyone ever choose this car over a Tesla Model S at the same price? Answer: No one ever did.
4. Mitsubishi i-MiEV
When people want to make fun of electric vehicles, all they have to do is point to Mitsubishi’s foray into the plug-in segment. The i-MiEV made its debut in 2011 and, five years later, continues its slog on the U.S. market. Capable of covering just 62 miles on a full charge, i-MiEV falls below even the most basic expectations for vehicular travel. Nonetheless, its price ($22,995) does not reflect that reality. That’s probably why it sells between 100 and 200 models a year, and in March 2016 found just one (1) buyer in all of America.
5. Think City
Maybe Think City’s electric excursion — complete with recycled body parts and an MSRP of $36,495 — was the cruelest joke of all to automakers who were serious about EVs. If you need a few good laughs, check out AutoBlog’s review of this car back in 2011. The tester felt like a joke was being played on him when noting the maximum 50 horsepower and 66 pound-feet of torque. Yet it was not terribly funny. Think went bankrupt twice with this car as its showpiece, and most people will understand why.