If you’re reading this article, then the world hasn’t ended, the Mayan calendar was wrong and we’re headed into 2013 — and that means some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking car manufacturers are rolling out their latest lines of lithium-ion battery-powered electric vehicles. Pike Research forecasts that sales of plug-in vehicles will hit 210,000 for 2013 as more than three dozen new models enter the market. Globally, plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle (PHEV) production may grow more than 800 percent, to 960,644 vehicles by 2018, according to research from IHS Automotive, reported Reuters.
Nissan (TSE:7201,OTC Pink:NSANY) recently announced that its upgraded 2013 Leaf will be outfitted with lithium-ion batteries produced at its newly opened US cell-manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Tennessee. The $1.7-billion factory, the third globally for the auto manufacturer, is the largest automotive-scale lithium-ion battery plant in the United States and received major funding from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing Loan Program. The plant — located adjacent to Nissan’s vehicle-assembly operation — is capable of producing batteries for as many as 200,000 electric vehicles annually. Word is Nissan’s new Infiniti M35h luxury sedan will also house batteries produced at the new plant.
The Leaf has been on the worldwide market for two years, with sales totaling about 46,000 units — 18,000 sold in the United States. Motor Trend reported that the 2013 Leaf will have up to 25 percent more range than the 2012 Nissan Leaf, which boasted an EPA-rated range of 73 miles. Nissan also announced plans to launch 15 new hybrid models by 2016 and a “commitment to zero-emission leadeership.”
Not to be outdone, General Motors (NYSE:GM) is set to debut a luxury coupe with a PHEV drivetrain — the 2014 Cadillac ELR — at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit next month. The new model is based on the Converj concept car that the auto manufacturer revealed at the same show in 2009. Reportedly, it shares a similar layout with the Chevrolet Volt plug-in sedan, including a lithium-ion battery and a four-cylinder engine as a generator.
Volkswagen (ETR:VOW) will allocate a significant portion of its annual research and development budget — $9.13 billion — on electric mobility, reported Reuters. Looking ahead to 2014, Europe’s largest vehicle maker plans to expand its alternative-fuel offerings, including PHEV versions of the Porsche Panamera, Porsche Cayenne SUV, 918 Spyder, Golf, Passat and Audi Q7 SUV. PHEV versions of the Audi A6 sedan and A8 flagship model are expected in later years.
Ford (NYSE:F) is investing $135 million from the design stage through production on the Fusion Hybrid, Fusion Energi PHEV, C-MAX hybrid, C-MAX Energi PHEV and Focus Electric, five electric vehicles with advanced lithium-ion batteries that are coming on the market in 2013. The Focus Electric is powered by a 23-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack and a 143-horsepower electric motor. The car has an EPA-rated range of 76 miles and the standard model comes with a 6.6-kilowatt charger. The Ford Fusion Hybrid has an EPA rating of 47 mpg combined gas mileage and houses the same powertrain as the Ford C-Max dedicated hybrid hatchback — nominee for Green Car Reports’ 2013 Best Car to Buy award.
In late 2013, BMW (FWB:BMW) will be putting its first all-electric car, the i3 coupe, into production. Driven by a 125 kW/250 Nm electric motor and single-speed transmission, its range is expected to be close to 160 km. With a carbon-fiber body and a low-positioned lithium-ion battery, the car is expected to handle as well as you’d expect from a premium BMW product.
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistilli, hold no direct investment interest in any company or commodity mentioned in this article.