Tesla's the Safest, But How Do the Electric Cars on the American Market Compare?

Jacob Harper  |

Tesla Motors (TSLA) scored another victory on Aug. 20 when their Model S sedan was rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration a 5.4… out of 5. The roof of the Model S was so strong it actually broke the machine used to test its impact resistance, explaining how the car that can seemingly do no wrong can also score literally off the charts.Consumer Reports, on the other hand, gave the car a relatively paltry 99 out of 100, putting it merely in the top 1 percent of cars they tested.

Though the Model S is certainly getting the most press as of late, it’s not the only highway-capable electric car available to American consumers, nor the only one that enjoys major safety advantages over their gasoline-powered cousins (a lack of an gas engine block helps.) Most major car companies have an electric car on the market (or one coming out in 2013,) all with their advantages and disadvantages.

BMW i8

Perhaps no electric car has seriously made as splashy an entrance into the public consciousness as BMW’s i8.  On Aug. 15 Ludwig Willisch, BMW’s North American chief executive officer, said “This is the supercar of the future: It has the driving performance of an M3, but gets more than 80 miles per gallon,”

The i8 is a sports car that directly challenges the Model S, although it differs in two key ways. One, it has a far higher price point. The i8 is expected to retail for around $150,000. BMW plans to offer a cheaper electric vehicle, the i3, next year.

Two, the i8 is an unabashed sports car, catering to those with a need for speed. The i8’s selling point isn’t its safety or battery duration, but rather the 364 horsepower that can propel the car from 0 to 60 in 4.5 seconds.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Chevrolet Spark EV

In the electric car race, the BMW i8 and the Model S grab the headlines for their impressive features and sleek designs. General Motors Company's (GM) Chevy Spark EV, with its sparse features and unassuming appearance, doesn’t get the same breathless attention. But with a starting price of $27,495 the Spark is an attractive option for budget-conscious consumers.

The gasoline version of the Spark has been a surprise hit in the mini-car market, which bodes well for the future of its electric counterpart.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Fiat 500e

Chrysler parent Fiat was expecting a hit with the 500e, the electric version of their popular Fiat 500 mini. And from the first sale to an American consumer on July 15 until July 31, the company went on to sell approximately 150 units, or a complete sell-out.

However, in its short existence on the market the 500e has already encountered major problems. 270 of the cars have been recalled to fix bolts that secure the vehicle’s half shafts. No injuries or accidents associated with the problem have been reported, though it's not an auspicious start for the still young brand.

The 500e has a drive range of approximately 84 miles and is currently only available in California.

(image courtesy of WIkimedia Commons)

Ford Focus Electric

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Ford Motor Company's (F) ’s electric offering is currently listed as the “most fuel efficient compact” in the US, getting the equivalent of 105 miles to the gallon. Like the Spark EV, the electric version of the Focus is a variant of a popular model that undercuts the pricier electric offerings of competitors.

On July 10 Ford cut the base price of the Focus Electric $4,000, to give it a new base of $35,995, or less than a half of Tesla’s Model S. Analysts were unimpressed with Ford’s explanations, saying the price slash was indicative of the lack of demand for an electric Ford Focus.

(image courtesy of WIkipedia)

Mitsubishi i-MiEV

As auto review site Slashgear notes, electric cars tend to be either outlandish, or discrete. But the i-MiEV, a hatchback which looks like a futuristic “space jelly-bean” and takes 13 seconds to do 0-60, is a little bit of both. And for now, it seems to have successfully split the difference between the flashy i8’s and the Chevy Spark EV market, and found a niche right in the middle.

Mitsubishi’s MiEV 5-door hatchback sports a relatively impressive range of around 100 mph, while most electrics currently boast between 70 and 80. It’s priced competitively, at $29,125 base, $21,625 with tax incentives, making it one of the cheaper options for consumers and has proved popular, selling roughly 1,600 units.

(image courtesy of Wikipedia)

Nissan Leaf

Of all the EVs on the market, the Nissan Leaf is probably Tesla’s most serious competitor. The Leaf is the best selling electric car in the US, with 11,703 units sold in the first half of 2013. This is 1,700 more units than Tesla sold of its Model S electric, and over 10 times moiré than the third best seller, the Focus Electric.

In January, Nissan cut $6,400 off the price of the Leaf, bringing its starting price to $29,650 (including shipping), which drove up sales of the compact hatchback.

The Leaf’s price point, coupled with its relatively solid safety track record and lack of battery fires that have plagued other EVs has solidified the Leaf as a viable electric option.

(image courtesy of WIkimedia commons)

Tesla Model S

Tesla's Model S might be only the second-best selling EV on the market, but it’s unquestionably the one with the greatest potential to be a true game changer. As mentioned above, it’s acing its safety tests, and with a range of 200 miles (300 under ideal conditions) it more than doubles the range of most EVs.

The Model S isn’t immune from bad press. Tesla famously got into it with the New York Times after an NYT writer wrote an article detailing the car’s supposed myriad issues he encountered during a cross-country trip. The price point of the Model S – currently around $71,740 – has also been a big-turn off for cost-conscious electric car customers.

But despite the kerfuffle with the Grey Lady and the Model S’ high price, sales have exceeded expectations. And while some analysts are still bearish on the company, Tesla’s Model S will most likely be, by year’s end, overtake the Leaf and become the best selling electric in the US.

(image courtesy of flickr)

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