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Automakers are ‘not even trying’ to sell electric cars, Tesla says

A Tesla Motors sign outside the company's showcase store in Seattle, Wash.


When it comes to regulatory measures, it’s customary for automakers to present a united front to government agencies setting new rules and policies.

But as it has in so many other areas, electric-car maker Tesla Motors is bucking tradition.

While the federal government and California Air Resources Board (CARB) are evaluating auto-industry proposals to relax emissions standards, one Tesla executive advocates stricter rules to force automakers to sell more electric cars.

Established automakers are ignoring the potential of electric cars, Diarmuid O’Connell —Tesla’s vice president of business development—told Forbes and other media at the Center for Automotive Research Management Briefing Seminars in Traverse City, Michigan.

“The industry is not even trying,” he said.

O’Connell pointed to more than 370,000 reservations Tesla says it has accumulated for its 215-mile Model 3 electric car, which won’t start production until the end of next year. Each of those reservation holders put down a refundable $1,000 deposit for a Model 3 order slot, effectively an interest-free loan to Tesla for up to several years.

2016 Chevrolet Spark EVO’Connell criticized other automakers for offering primarily low-range models, which he compared to “kitchen appliances,” over the past five years. Some of the models O’Connell referred to are “compliance cars,” built solely to satisfy California’s zero-emission vehicle mandate.

O’Connell also noted that these cars carry significant price premiums, claiming that both the Chevrolet Spark EV and Kia Soul EV cost twice as much as gasoline-powered versions of the same models. In addition, sales of both cars—as well as other compliance cars like the Honda Fit EV, Fiat 500e, and Toyota RAV4 EV—are limited to certain electric-car-friendly states.

It’s also worth noting that manufacturers haven’t been consistent in marketing plug-in cars, even those available nationwide.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV pre-production vehicles at Orion Township Assembly Plant, March 2016

General Motors was hardly aggressive in marketing the first-generation Chevrolet Volt, and plans to target only customers similar to those who bought the first car in its efforts to sell the second-generation model. GM will also begin production of the all-electric 200-mile 2017 Chevy Bolt EV before the end of this year—a car that would seem to be an exception to O’Connell’s bleak description of the electric-car landscape.

With a base price of $37,500 before federal, state, and local incentives, the Bolt EV competes on both price and range the later Model 3, which Tesla has said will start at $35,000 before incentives.

O’Connell’s comments come amidst a debate about whether the U.S. should remain committed to a Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) goal of 54.5 mpg (roughly 38 mpg on the window sticker) by 2025.

A recent draft report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded that carmakers might not achieve that average due to the combination of cheap gas and higher-than-expected sales of SUVs. Automakers are expected to use that report to argue for less-strict standards—except for Tesla, which will continue to argue for tougher rules that encourage sales of electric cars.

[hat tip: Brian Henderson]

This story originally appeared on Green Car Reports.

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