Automotive News: Plug-ins Coming from Subaru, Range Rover, Kia, Mini

By · March 25, 2013

Subaru CrossTrek

2013 Subaru CrossTrek. Is a plug-in version really coming in the next year?

The main body of today’s report by Automotive News about the future of plug-in cars spans nearly 1,200 words. It contains the standard refrain from the industry’s establishment: “Plug-in cars are too expensive. EVs only appeal to eco-geeks. Mainstream buyers don’t care.” But the real story is told in the table that follows the primary text—revealing more than 30 new or upgraded plug-in cars slated for introduction in the next three years. The list includes a number of surprises that should get electric car fans excited.

The majority of the list contains electric car and plug-in hybrid models that have been expected: Chevy Spark, Infiniti Electric LE, Volkswagen E-Golf, and Tesla Model X. In one case, the timeline seems surprising: The Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-in Hybrid, a four-wheel-drive plug-in hybrid SUV, according to Automotive News, will be a 2015 model year vehicle. That means its release might not happen until late 2014.

A word of caution: Automotive News is being very inclusive, claiming that its long list of plug-in cars are being “planned” by major automakers. A lot of can happen—including plans that get changed or delayed (sometimes indefinitely)—between these kinds of reports and arrival of a new model to local dealerships. Inclusion of vehicles with longer horizons, into 2015 or 2016, should especially be taken with a pinch or two or salt.

Even as it outlines 30-plus plug-in cars coming soon, Automotive News throws a wet blanket on market potential. “These vehicles—conceived in the heady days of EV enthusiasm several years ago—will roll out into a market that seems to have gone ice cold.”

More Options, Including Luxury, Size and All-Wheel Drive

Nonetheless, according to Automotive News, Subaru will offer the Subaru Crosstrek Plug-in Hybrid in 2013. Just last week, we learned that the Japanese automaker will debut a Subaru XV Crosstrek Hybrid at the upcoming New York Auto Show. But there’s been little evidence of a plug-in version, except for a Subaru Viziv plug-in crossover concept shown at this year’s Geneva Motor Show.

The plug-in hybrid drivetrain system featured a 2.0-liter diesel boxer engine mated to a CVT, with a pair of electric motors driving the rear wheels to create an all-wheel-drive system. The use of a diesel engine plus its flashy design, with features such as butterfly doors and 20-inch wheels, suggested the Viziv had no chance for production. But a toned-down real-world plug-in version of the Crosstrek—a small SUV praised for comfort, a balanced ride, and a capable all-wheel drive system—would be warmly received by plug-in buyers. There’s no other plug-in car out there with this range of utility and features.

Automotive News also pegs a 2013-2014 release for a Range Rover Plug-in Hybrid. The company has been experimenting with plug-in hybrids for a few years. But its arrival anytime soon would contradict a statement made in October by Peter Richings, chief engineer for hybrid technology at Jaguar Land Rover, in an interview with Auto Express. Richings wouldn’t confirm the timeline, but said if it happens at all, “It will be sometime after 2015, but before 2020.”

This contradiction, combined with a lack of information about other “planned” plug-in cars, suggests a less-than-light-tight schedule for promising cars including in the Automotive News list:

  • Kia Soul EV – 2015 (model year)
  • Mercedes C Class Plug-in Hybrid – 2014
  • Mercedes S Class Plug-in Hybrid – 2015
  • Mini Plug-in Hybrid or EV – 2015
  • Infiniti Emerg-E Plug-in Hybrid – After 2015
  • Sonata Plug-in Hybrid – 2016 (model year)
  • Optima plug-in hybrid - 2016

These are the more speculative of the bunch. Even if specific models don’t come to fruition, the Automotive News table gives a compelling glimpse of the market in about three years, when nearly every segment of the market will have multiple plug-in options from a field of automakers that includes Audi, BMW, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Honda, Hyundai, Infiniti, Kia, Land Rover, Mercedes, Mini, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Smart, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota and Volkswagen.

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