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Fleet Buyers May Take Lead In Building Battery Car Market

Fleets know what they need; buyers less sure what they want.

by on Nov.23, 2010

Fleet buyers, rather than retail customers, could provide the initial nudge needed to build demand for battery vehicles like the Ford Transit Connect EV.

When General Motors began testing the market to see who might be interested in buying a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle, several years ago, “I stood up,” recalls Kris Trexler, a film editor from Los Angeles.

Having previously leased GM’s short-lived EV1 electric vehicle, a decade earlier, Trexler liked the fact that battery power could be both environmentally friendly and fun to drive.  So he was one of the first “hand-raisers” for the Chevrolet Volt, which he recently learned will earn him the right to take delivery of the seventh car to roll off the assembly line once retail production begins.

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GM is hoping to find thousands of battery car advocates in the months ahead as it ramps up production of the 2011 Volt.  Meanwhile, Nissan says it has received so much interest in its new Leaf battery-electric vehicle, or BEV, that it had to cut preliminary orders off several months earlier than expected.

Nonetheless, many industry observers believe such early indicators could be misleading, and that once so-called “early adopters,” like Trexler, get their fill, demand for the new technology could plunge.  At least on the retail side.

“The cost is still too expensive for consumers,” contends Stefan Jacoby, CEO of Volvo Cars.  Instead, he believes, the real boom market “will be primarily among fleets for a considerable time.”

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