By Rick Popely on March 11, 2014
As more manufacturers introduce electric cars, these battery-powered vehicles are becoming something people see on the road every day. At least in some parts of the country, they are.
The number of purely electric vehicles offered in the U.S. will grow to a dozen by the end of this year. Many of those EVs are available only in a small number of states, however, with California being the epicenter of electric-car sales.
A study by R.L. Polk said San Francisco and Los Angeles were the top two markets for EVs and account for 35 percent of total electric-vehicle sales in the country (including plug-in hybrids that can run solely on battery power part of the time). California requires manufacturers to sell zero-emissions vehicles on a schedule that started in 2012 and rises to 15.4 percent of new-vehicle sales by 2025. That is why some, such as the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500e and Toyota RAV4 EV are sold principally in California.
Other states that have adopted California's emissions regulations, including Oregon, New York and several in the Northeast, have a greater selection of available EVs than many states. But in the vast expanses between the coasts, dealers peddling EVs can be hard to find.
Even if a car company says that a particular electric vehicle is offered in your state, all dealers may not have signed up to sell them. Dealers typically are required to put employees through sales and technical training, buy service tools and equipment, and sometimes require them to install one or more charging stations to be able to sell EVs. Some dealers don't see much potential for return on investment.
Here is a rundown of which EVs might be available at a dealer near you:
BMW i3 and i8: The i3 (above), a subcompact rear-wheel-drive electric car, is due in showrooms in May, and the i8, a gull-wing plug-in hybrid coupe, should arrive in late summer. BMW says 285 of its 338 dealers, or 84 percent of its stores, have signed up to sell the electric i3. BMW would not say which states would not be represented.
Chevrolet Spark EV: Chevrolet has more than 3,000 U.S. dealers, but you can find the Spark EV (GM's only pure electric vehicle) only at 116 dealers in California and Oregon. Chevrolet has not announced any plans to expand availability.
Fiat 500e: Availability of the 500e is limited to 31 Fiat dealers in California. Fiat Chief Executive Sergio Marchionne has complained that the company loses $10,000 on every 500e and offers the electric car only to comply with California's zero-emissions requirements, so if you live outside of the Golden State, don't hold your breath.
Ford Focus Electric, Fusion Energi, C-Max Energi: Ford says dealers in all 50 states are certified to sell the Focus Electric and the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi plug-in hybrids, though that doesn't mean every dealer sells them. A little more than 800 of its roughly 3,000 dealers have been certified to sell EVs.
Honda Fit EV: Get 'em while you can, because the Fit EV could disappear soon. First, Honda set a goal of leasing (they're available only for lease with no purchase option) 1,100 Fit EVs in the U.S., a benchmark that should be achieved later this year. Second, the Fit is being redesigned for 2015, and an electric version isn't part of the plan. The Fit EV is available in eight states: California, Oregon, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland and Rhode Island, but only about 40 trickle into the country per month. Honda says dealers in those states have waiting lists, so it's unlikely any are sitting in showrooms.
Kia Soul EV: Kia's first electric car is scheduled to go on sale in the fall as a 2015 model, initially only in California and Oregon. Plans are to offer the Soul EV in New York, New Jersey and Maryland early next year.
Mercedes-Benz B-Class Electric Drive: The B-Class, a new battery-powered compact hatchback, will go on sale in the summer in eight states — California, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Mercedes says it should be available nationwide early next year.
Mitsubishi i-MiEV: The i-MiEV is available through 236 of Mitsubishi's national dealer body of about 400, and those are spread across 42 states. (None are in Alaska, Arkansas, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Rhode Island or Wyoming.) Mitsubishi says it expects more dealers to become certified to sell EVs next year when the Outlander Plug-In Hybrid arrives.
Nissan Leaf: Nissan says that 813 of its 1,061 U.S. dealers — 77 percent — have been certified to sell the Leaf EV. The only states that don't have certified Leaf dealers are Alaska and Wyoming, and Nissan says residents of those two states have bought Leafs from dealers in other states.
Smart ForTwo Electric Drive: This two-seat EV has been available in California, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island, but Smart says it will be offered nationwide in the spring. Because Smart has fewer than 100 U.S. dealers, the ForTwo Electric Drive still won't be easy to find for some.
Tesla Model S: Tesla currently has stores, or "galleries" (they aren't dealerships), in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and the company's website says a store will open in Connecticut this year. Buying a Model S starts online with a deposit of $2,500, and delivery is made through the nearest service center.
Volkswagen e-Golf: VW's first electric car in the U.S. is scheduled to go on sale in the fourth quarter of this year as a 2015 model, and the company is being specifically vague about where it will be available. So far, Volkswagen has said only that it will be offered in "select states." By "select" we would guess California and other states with requirements for zero-emissions vehicles.
Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman and Evan Sears
Contributor Rick Popely has covered the auto industry for decades and hosts a weekly online radio show on TalkZone.com . Email Rick