By Martin Leggett
Time to bin those ‘superficial flash’ and ‘side-show glitz’ tag-lines. The electric vehicle is no longer just a before-mains appetizer – the EV is the main course now. That’s the message coming from the inaugural auto-shows of the 2012 season, where a slew of hefty real-world solutions took attention from the more usual froth of ‘concept EV’ side-dishes.

Of course, there’s still plenty of conceptual grandstanding to be had on the EV scene. But after the squealing of Volts and Leafs from the forecourts over the last 12 months, this year is shaping up to be less icing and decidedly more EV cake. So let’s sample the menu being offered up for 2012 – already a real movable-feast for those prefer their autos lean, clean and green.
Nissan LEAF 2012 (Pure EV)
The car that made the ‘pure-electric’ dream real last year, 2012’s Leaf comes loaded with a dash more style, and extra sprinkle of techno-wizardry. That includes fast and faster charging options (240V and DC ports respectively), an intelligent mobile charging app, and the ability to precisely nail the car’s cabin clime while still hooked to the grid – before you even step outside. But while the faster charging options may trim ‘range anxiety’, it continues to loom a little large; the 2012 Leaf still barely nudges 100-miles, before a full recharge is needed.
Ford Focus Electric (Pure EV)
The Ford Focus Electric has elbowed into the nascent electric-only market with some intentionally eye-catching numbers – including a touted 100+ MPGe (mpg-equivalent) rating, and nippy 3-4 hour charge-up. That’s courtesy of a powerful on-board charger, which knocks socks (and hours) off the typical Leaf charging time. That said, the Focus Electric’s market entry is looking a little ragged; unless you’re in selected cities in the North East, or California, you may have to wait until September before zipping Ford’s EV effort around the block.
Smart For-Us (Pure EV)
While Ford and Nissan slug it out to jolt the mainstream market, Smart sticks firmly to ‘quirk’, with their cheeky take on a micro-pickup – the all-electric ‘For-Us’. Styled exactly like an electric car should look in the movies, the ‘ForUs’ is certainly dressed to impress the urban crowd. The souped-up electric motor pushes the top-speed to an impressive 80mp. And while the battery may only reach out to 60 miles, Smart have thought that one through too. The 3-foot ‘flat-bed’ is broad enough to slot a pair of bikes to the rear; which niftily solves the range-extension issue.
Tesla Model S (Pure EV)
The electric car renaissance has a lot to thank Tesla for – bringing untrammeled sex appeal to the EV table, in the shape of the much-drooled-over Roadster. With the Model S, Tesla is looking for some return on that talismanic status. It has certainly proved to be a car of superlatives at this season’s auto-shows. The Model S can power its muscular good-looks from standing to sixty in a shade over four seconds. Range anxiety is barely a whisper above its 85kWh battery-powered electric engine; a battery that is good for up to 300 miles of open road. And that battery-pack has an unlimited warranty attached, too. Just a shame the sticker price is on the superlative side as well, peaking at $100,000 plus.
Jeep/ Amp Grand Cherokee (Pure EV conversion)
If you can’t build your own electrified status symbol, then why not engineer an e-power-train into one prepackaged with street-cred? That’s what Amp plans to do with Jeep’s Grand Cherokee; out go the fossil-fueled innards, and in comes a slick 37-kWh battery-fueled electric motor. The 100-mile range may not make this conversion cross-country ready. But then again the Cherokee is as much an urban pose as a badlands motor; owning an Amp Jeep EV special can only raise that street appeal.
VW e-Bugster (Pure EV concept)
Rounding out the all-electric platter is the eBugster – not quite on the menu for 2012, but promised soon thereafter. The original VW Beetle always oozed a non-conformist charm. And if any classic car deserves a rendering in electric form, it’s the Beetle. Make way, then, for the eBugster, which retains those playful Beetle lines, while still looking ‘built-electric’ from the tires up. The stats that VW have thrown down edge from solid to stellar – a 110-mile range, 35-minute charge-up, and a 10-second jaunt to reach 60 mph. But the eBugster will sell a bundle on pure charm, something it has in abundance. A real audience-wowser was its electric start-up sequence, which courses light along the car’s curves. A perfect exhibition of the eBugster’s melding of retro-chic and futuristic vision.
Chevy Volt (Plug-in Hybrid)
The Chevy Volt may have helped establish the plug-in hybrid EV beach-head, but some have felt its electric credentials to be a little on the light side – especially when the high price tag is flipped. The 2012 Chevy Volt will do little to ease those criticisms. There are a few new tricks for the geeks, including Bluetooth streaming, voice activation and an improved telematics system. But the essentials – power-train, battery and stylings – are the same as last year’s. Great for fans of the Volt’s powerfully-torqued electric motor and ‘no-range anxiety here’ motto. But revolution seekers will have to look elsewhere.
Volvo V60 ( Plug-in Hybrid)
The auto-shows also saw Volvo hold out a teaser-only version of its US plug-in gasoline hybrid, the XC60. Switch over to Europe, and its equivalent – the V60, the world’s first diesel-hybrid – is already out-of-the gates. Hints of what the US can expect are there – the drive-train can be flexibly flipped between Pure electric, Hybrid and Power modes, with the gas-engine powering the front, and the 70-hp electric motor the rear. That combo means the gas-version is expected to best the 105MPGe mark. But while the V60 will be hitting European roads later this year, back across the Atlantic, US drivers may have to wait until 2014.
Via Motors eREV VTRUX Pickup (Plug-in Hybrid)
For those looking for a more meaty EV offering, VIA motors have happily obliged – announcing a range of extended-range pick-ups, cargo vans and SUVs at the auto-shows. Accelerating such large chassisied vehicles demanded the development of a truly hench power-train. And VIA claims it can compete with the V8 as a workhorse engine. The eREV VTRUX Pickup delivers 40 miles on battery electric, and another 400 miles from its gas-fueled generator. Fleet owners are the initial target, with the sales-line relying on the competitive total cost of ownership. But the forecourts will be rumbling with these extra-large portioned EVs soon.
Martin is a freelance writer from the UK, who specializes in writing on the strategic impact of environmental issues. After a 10-year sojourn as an analyst at Brady plc –  a Cambridge-based provider of services to commodity investment banking professionals – Martin set himself up as self-employed writer at the beginning of 2010. Since then he has written for a number of environmental websites and companies, and has been one of the principle journalists for green news website, The Earth Times