This week, a small company called Coda released a new electric car. It’s $40,000, and for that price you get a new electric powertrain underneath an old-looking Chinese compact sedan. It’s not something that’s going to really get most people going, but the electric part is actually really smartly packaged, making one wonder if it’s all just a proof of concept, a way to get a more prominent company to use it in one of their models. They’re not the only ones introducing something electric either. Ford has a rather more handsome Focus coming, which is a similar price. Toyota just announced an electric version of their RAV4 which comes in at almost $50,000. The rest of the stuff currently on the market, like Nissan’s Leaf, is sitting square in the high $30,000 range. These new models are yet another example of how you can’t really judge a technology’s future based on the first examples of it.
It’s true in televisions, where the first flat screens cost as much as a compact sedan. Now you can get a decent model for a few hundred dollars. It’s true in computing, as the average cell phone has more power than a machine that cost thousands of dollars little more than a decade ago. And, naturally, it’s true in cars as well, which this Coda will prove and the various models on the market have proved long ago.
These models are fully electric, but the proof is in the gas-electric hybrids that are on the market now. Take, for instance, Toyota’s Prius C, which I drove recently. It moves like any other small hatchback, except that it’s suspiciously quiet at stop signs and is quietly judging you and how efficiently you’re driving. You get a little report card after every trip, telling you how much gas you used on the journey. It’s a neat little car, and for $20,000 it’s not a bad price either. Sure, it’s smaller than most of the other stuff in the price range, but it comes with a lot of standard equipment and it’s supposed to save gas money anyway.
I bring up that because, along with the other Prius models Toyota sells, it’s a pretty long way from the original sedan back ten years ago. They are all more efficient, and more importantly it’s actually possible to make the bite-sized model, while the original Prius a decade ago was the smallest it could be. The technology is getting less expensive, more compact, and better able to do its job.
Which is relevant for the fully electric models because right now it is kind of a silly proposition. It’s very expensive, and for that money you get a car that’s deficient in a few ways and not really viable for a lot of people. It’s the same way for all fully electric vehicles on the market right now, whether the company is big or small, they’re a bit too expensive and can’t go quite as far as most people would like them to. You wouldn’t want to go to Regina from Yorkton in a Coda, for instance.
But that’s because it’s early days, and stuff in the early days might be impressive, but it’s not really quite the one you want. Every time the gas price nudges a little higher, someone wants to buy a car that doesn’t use any. None of the current crop of electric cars work for the majority, but for the few that can swing them they’ll be an interesting way to get from place to place. Then, in a decade or two, they’ll begin to make sense for the rest of us.