This is going to be a fun one. 😀 No matter how this ranking turns out, people are going to have differing opinions, sometimes very strong ones. But that’s the nature of subjective rankings, especially about topics people are very emotional about. Considering how people name their cars, how they will buy from a single brand for decades simply because their parents did or because their first vehicle came from that brand, and how they will spend tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on what is objectively a ripoff, I imagine I’m in for some fun down in the comments. 😉
The idea for this ranking popped into my head while reading this insightful comment from James Wimberley (whose insights and knowledge anyone who spends much time in the comments section can thoroughly appreciate).
Getting on to the subject at hand, though, as the title implies, I’m ranking automakers according to their commitment to the electric vehicle revolution. Specifically, I’m focusing on the car market, and car companies that are prominent in Europe and the US. While I know quite a bit about BYD and its electric leadership, I don’t know much at all about out Chinese car companies, and they predominantly don’t serve the markets where our readers live.
Here’s my ranking, with short justification for each player:
Daimler just barely squeezed onto this list. Admittedly, its Smart Electric Drive is quite peppy, has been selling well for years, and is quite popular with owners. But Daimler didn’t offer anything else electric for a long time, and the Smart Electric Drive is clearly at the bottom of the pile when it comes to quality — furthering the notion for years that electric cars were glorified golf carts.
However, Daimler effectively saved Tesla Motors from death, which counts for something. Its Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric has gotten good reviews and fits a niche in the market where it basically just competes with the BMW i3… and for customers who may or may not be willing to splurge on a Tesla (admittedly, it seems most in that category are willing to splurge). Mercedes is now reportedly moving on from its battery partnership with Tesla and is going to put its battery packs together itself, which makes me think it has gotten more serious about being a genuine contender in this fast-growing market and developing some competitive advantages (or at least trying to do so). It has recently released a handful of plug-in hybrid models that are likely compliance cars but are selling pretty well in parts of Europe. So, I’m feeling more hopeful than not about the company, and I’m happy the “magic number 10” forced me to find an extra company for this list.
Arguably, Porsche is too small a player to even be on this list. Arguably, it should be much higher. While it may not sell a ton of electric vehicles, we have to put that in perspective — Porsche doesn’t sell a ton of cars, in general. However, when you look at the share of its vehicle sales that are electric, Porsche looks pretty freakin’ good. Granted, that comes with a rather big caveat. Porsche’s electric offerings are plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with very limited electric-only ranges, and the gasoline engine kicks in for various purposes even when driving electric. Porsche isn’t exactly offering stellar electric driving options, which is surely one reason why Tesla is eating its lunch in the high-end electric car market.
Ford is a tricky cookie. On the one hand, there’s no way you can call it a leader in the electric car market. Its Ford Fusion Energi, Ford C-Max Energi, and Ford Focus Electric are simple redesigns of gasoline cars, with the battery and electric drivetrains just stuffed in. On the other hand, unlike most car companies, Ford has seemingly been willing to sell its electric models on most of the places it sells it gasoline models, and it has them produced on the same line so that it can increase or decrease production in order to meet demand.
The Energi models are actually quite attractive offerings and sell quite well in the US. I’d say that Ford must be surpassing its requirements under CARB and other ZEV mandates. The Ford Focus Electric was quite overpriced for awhile, but Ford dropped the price to make it competitive with the Nissan LEAF. Still, few Focus Electrics are sold, and you have to wonder how much of that is due to the product itself, how much to the dealer network and Ford’s electric push there, how much to lack of decent advertising (or any advertising at all), and how much to Ford’s willingness to produce the vehicle and get it in showrooms. Ford’s head of electrification has previously told me that it was taking a cost-effective approach to the market and would jump into from-the-ground-up EVs and long-range fully electric cars when the battery market is ready for that. In other words, it is happy to be a follower rather than a leader.
Volkswagen could jump several places in this ranking if it keeps its word and relatively soon makes the issue of range a moot point for electric cars. Presumably, this is tied to its investment in Quantumscape and/or other battery innovators, but we simply don’t have a lot of info on the matter, and many critics see its repeated claims over the years as vaporware. We’ll see.
Dealing with the offerings on hand, the Volkswagen e-Golf, Volkswagen Golf GTE, Volkswagen e-Up! are quite attractive electric models that are selling well and Volkswagen seems willing (if not eager) to sell beyond niche, EV-friendly markets. That’s worth something.
Arguably, Mitsubishi could be much higher on this list. Its Outlander Plug-In Hybrid SUV has been a top seller (if not the top seller) in Europe for a few years. In fact, it is reportedly because it has sold so well in Europe that the US launch has been repeatedly delayed. The Outlander PHEV also sells well in its home country of Japan. And, lest we all forget too soon, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV was one of the very first modern electric cars on the market.
That said, the Outlander PHEV has quite limited electric-only range, the i-MiEV has the shortest range of any fully electric car, Mitsubishi hasn’t done much to improve the i-MiEV over the past several years, and Mitsubishi apparently hasn’t worked hard enough (or been persuasive enough) to improve its battery supply situation and get the Outlander PHEV to America, where it could have sold like hotcakes for the past few years. Lastly, we haven’t heard from Mitsubishi about any steps forward on the electric front, which is sad and strange when you consider how well the Outlander PHEV is doing.
I almost had Renault in the #3 spot, but it is getting competitive near the top. Renault offers an attractive, affordable car — the Zoe — that has been selling well in various European markets for years. Renault really seems to back the vehicle, offers it widely, and is selling the cute thing. Aside from the Zoe, it also sells quite a lot of Kangoo ZE electric vans, which are an attractive offering, and the fun Twizy two-seater. For awhile, it also sold a sleek Fluence ZE, and was the sole automobile supplier for the short-lived but ambitious Better Place system. Without a doubt, Renault deserves to be in the top 5, and possibly even the top 3, but its limited market and the fact that it hasn’t made any big announcements in recent years regarding new offerings just slot it into the #5 spot in my ranking.
GM also almost made it into the #3 spot (and almost got dropped to the #5 spot) but ended up #4. While it is not a fully electric car, I think it’s hard for anyone to debate that the Chevy Volt is one of the best, most competitive, and most popular electric cars of the past several years. While batteries are limited to providing drivers with a relatively “short” range on a single charge or boosting the price of the car well beyond most people’s budget, GM took the pragmatic approach of building a genuine electric car with a large range extender for those longer trips. It has improved the car over the years, and the 2nd-generation 2016 Volt looks very appetizing.
Furthermore, GM has announced that it will begin producing an affordable, long-range electric car (the Chevy Bolt) late next year. That will likely make it the first to market with such an offering, and that is a big deal. On the downside, GM only plans to produce 30,000 Bolts a year, which is quite a small number considering the offering, and GM has only put in limited effort selling electric cars outside of North America, as well as actually advertising the Volt in North America. (Yes, GM also offers the Cadillac ELR, but it is up for debate how much that is a + or a – in GM’s column. And it offers the Chevy Spark EV, which has scored well in reviews but is clearly a compliance car only available in a few markets, to the disappointment of many would-be buyers.)
So… the car company that inched in ahead of Renault and GM is clearly BMW. It was a tough call between these three, but with BMW clearly willing and eager to sell its electric offerings broadly in European and US markets, it got a good bushel of points from me. Additionally, propelling it into the #3 spot is the fact that it has repeatedly stated it will offer plug-in electric (inclusive of plug-in hybrid electric) versions of all of its models in under a decade. That should be a given across the auto world, in my opinion, but I think BMW is the only one that has made such a statement. (Other than the obvious leader, of course.)
The BMW i3 is an attractive and I think competitively priced electric product, and is fully electric (which counts for something). Rather than compete with Tesla or Nissan, BMW started out by filling a price point that fits it well. It’s also a cutting-edge vehicle on multiple fronts, using carbon fiber, bamboo, and a large amount of recycle content. It is the most efficient car on the US market and is reportedly “the greenest.” The BMW i8, while limited to the wealthy and not even competitive with the similar priced Tesla Model S P895D/P90D, is without doubt a beautiful vehicle that BMW put a lot of effort into. The overall BMW i program is a big step forward and has resulted in improvements not just within but also across BMW. BMW has some electric-only stores, which I think is very important for this market, and it has been releasing and will continue releasing plug-in versions of many of its models. Writing this up, it’s actually hard not to bump BMW to #2… and I’m on the verge of doing so. But…
As you have seen already, I decided to split of the Renault-Nissan Alliance. With Renault’s offerings primarily just in Europe, Nissan has a clear upper hand. Also, with the top-selling electric car globally, it would be hard not to put Nissan at or near the very top. Furthermore, it seems Nissan will be the second company to offer an electric car with over 100 miles of range on a single charge, so I think it nicely fits in the #2 spot.
(Notably absent from this list: Audi, Citroen, Fiat, Honda, Hyundai, Kia, Peugeot, Toyota, Volvo)
Images: Smart ED by Marika Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Porsche Panamera S E-Hybrid by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Ford Fusion Energi by Ford; Volkswagen Golf GTE by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Renault Zoe by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Chevy Bolt by GM; BMW i3 by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Nissan LEAFs by Zachary Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica; Tesla Model S by Marika Shahan | EV Obsession | CleanTechnica