Los Angeles Auto Show: Plug Me In

By Jonathan Spira on 21 November 2013
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The BMW i3

The BMW i3

At the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show, the luxury electric car market was heating up as Audi, BMW, and Cadillac touted their newest models in the country’s most energy-conscious region.

Electric cars, which currently make up 1% of light vehicle sales, are hot and automakers have been closely following Tesla Motors’ success in the market.  Since launching the Model S sedan in 2012, the California-based automaker has had the market more or less to itself.

That’s about to change.

Audi, which won’t even be launching the A3 etron plug-in hybrid model until early 2015, wants to get luxury buyers to think of the Ingolstadt-based carmaker when they think electric.  Audi will be broadening its plug-in hybrid offerings by adding hybrid version of the A6 and A8 sedans as well as the Q7 SUV in the coming year.  It will eventually offer a fully electric vehicle as well, although a timeframe for this has not yet been announced.

BMW is already providing test drives of its i3 electric city car, which will go on sale early next year with a price that starts around $40,000.  The Bavarian-based automaker is also promoting the new i8 plug-in hybrid sports car in Los Angeles. With its high-tech looks, a carbon-fiber body, and a price of $135,000, it is ushering in a new era of electric vehicle.

In the meantime Cadillac is launching the ELR, a luxury sedan that borrows heavily from the Chevrolet Volt plug-in except for the price: at $76,000, it’s almost double the cost of a Volt.  At the Detroit show in January, Cadillac executives told Frequent Business Traveler that it was aiming the ELR at luxury car buyers who would not consider a Chevrolet Volt, a model that has had sales numbers far below GM’s expectations.

While the carmakers are unquestionably generating excitement for these vehicles, it remains to be seen as to whether buyers will follow. Mass market electric vehicles such as the Nissan Leaf have sold at fairly low volumes to buyers who only have one car in the household.  One reason for this is range anxiety, the worry that the car’s limited driving range will make it impractical.  Buyers of luxury electric vehicles don’t typically have this concern because they can afford to have another vehicle for longer trips.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)