Mercedes SLS AMG eDrive
Someday soon there will be an affordable and clever electric vehicle that will conquer the world, as the Model T and Volkswagen Beetle did in their day. In the meantime, there's the Tesla Roadster, a US $109 000, 300-horsepower, two-seat toy for rich, environmentally conscious gadget hounds. Yes, for every Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt with mainstream pretensions, there's a battery-powered land rocket that's way more Bugatti than Beetle.
Makers of automobiles more associated with tearing up the earth than with saving it are suddenly rushing to outdo each other in the automotive industry's next big battleground: electric and plug-in hybrid cars. Their pitch is the familiar best of all worlds: cars that look hot, go fast, run clean, and consume either no gasoline or very little.
But really now, does a man who buys a six-figure missile on wheels really fret over fuel bills or global warming? Probably not, but carmakers say that affluent buyers increasingly want to make a green statement anyway. In a world where a fuel-sucking V-12 engine seems not just passé but nearly pathological, an electric sports car marks its owner as not just loaded but also progressive, ahead of the curve in both auto technology and fashion. Auto execs, of course, are only too happy to propagate this perception. "In the long run, we're either going to run out of oil or the price will go up dramatically," says Frank Van Meel, head of electromobility strategy for Audi. "There's a need to act right now."
And yet, it's not really the warming planet that's spurring the supercar makers. It's the heated rhetoric, and the forging of new government regulations. This is quite a change for a niche market that has obsessed over miles per hour while largely ignoring miles per gallon.
Under a controversial European Commission plan, new cars in Europe may be required by 2015 to meet a strict fleetwide average of 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer driven. The United States is expected to adopt similar CO 2 standards and has already mandated a 22 percent improvement in fleet average fuel economy, to about 35 miles per gallon (6.7 liters per 100 kilometers) by 2016. Because CO 2 emissions are a remorseless function of how much fuel you burn, the EU target means that a gasoline car would need to consume just 5.1 L/100 km, or achieve 46 mpg.