What's Coming: Alternative Vehicles, 2014-'17
New Hybrid, Electric, Fuel-Cell Vehicles and Diesel Cars
With federal rules calling for mpg ratings in 2025 that will nearly double the current standards, the cars that will be hitting dealers' showrooms in the next decade will change dramatically. And the change is coming quicker than you may realize, as you can see in our list below of the conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, electric, fuel-cell and diesel vehicles that will be on the road by 2017. Collectively, these are called "alternative" vehicles.
Even if you think you're not really interested in innovative technologies for improved fuel efficiency, it's increasingly likely that a car or truck that has some type of electric drive or that uses an alternative fuel will wind up on your consideration list the next time you go car shopping.
A Growing Market
By our count, there are nearly 100 conventional hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery-electric and diesel vehicles already in production, although some are built only for limited markets. Most have been introduced in the past five years, and things have slowed a bit after that flurry of activity. Automakers are still trying to figure out which technologies and fuels have the most promise in the race to slash oil consumption and greenhouse gases.
But while the flow of new advanced-efficiency vehicles is slowing a little, car companies aren't stopping. Edmunds.com expects at least two dozen more introductions from the major players in the U.S. through the 2017 model year.
The Latest Tech Entrant: Hydrogen Fuel-Cell Vehicles
One of the newest technologies, automotive hydrogen fuel cells will break into the market in 2014 with Hyundai's launch of a fuel-cell-powered Tucson crossover. That will be followed in 2015 by fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) from Honda and Toyota. Several others are expected in the 2017 model year.
Fuel-cell vehicles are electric cars and trucks that replace the "pure" EV's large and expensive grid-rechargeable battery pack with an onboard system that converts hydrogen and oxygen to electricity that flows directly to the vehicle's electric motor. That system is called a fuel-cell stack, and it uses a catalyst to split the electrons from the hydrogen molecules. The hydrogen fuel is taken onboard as a gas and stored in pressurized tanks. The systems use advanced lithium-ion batteries to store some of the electricity, but the battery packs are much smaller, lighter and cheaper than those in conventional EVs.
What You'll Find in This List — and What You Won't
This list is aimed at making it easy for you to get acquainted with the brand-new vehicles that are coming to U.S. dealerships. They're arranged by year, make and model. We've given release dates when we know them, and included pricing if the information is available.
Prices listed are for the base model and do not include a variety of incentives provided by federal, state and local governments and utility companies. Federal tax incentives, which are based on battery size and can run up to $7,500 for a battery-electric vehicle, are good for the first 200,000 qualified vehicles produced by each manufacturer. Other incentives vary widely.
The list does not include vehicles that already have gone on sale. Volvo and Saab aren't listed because their new owners have said that the future EVs and hybrids from these brands will target just the Chinese and European markets. Also excluded are redesigned or reengineered second-generation vehicles, as well as a few vehicles that rumors say are in the works, but which we couldn't pin down. Finally, we have dropped some models that appeared in previous versions of this list because the manufacturers have discontinued or postponed plans to build them.
The list only runs through the 2017 model year. Things get too iffy after that. We'll add new vehicles and new model years as information becomes available.
2014 Model Year
2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid: Arriving in mid-2014. The full name, Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, is a real mouthful. But it needs those terms to let car shoppers know what it's all about. The "super handling all-wheel-drive" hybrid uses three electric motors (one up front and two in the rear) and a 3.5-liter V6. Combined, they deliver 377 horsepower and an estimated 30 mpg combined city and highway through an automated seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. Pricing will start well above the $60,000 mark.
2014 BMW i8: On sale spring 2014. This lightweight, carbon-fiber and aluminum plug-in hybrid sports car will use a twin turbocharged, direct-injection three-cylinder engine to drive the rear wheels. Meanwhile, an electric motor powered by an 8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack will turn the front wheels. BMW claims the car will have up to 22 miles of cruising range in all-electric mode and with 362 hp, it will be capable of acceleration to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds. Top speed is 155 mph (75 mph in all-electric mode) and projected fuel economy is up to 94 mpg. Base price is $135,925.
2014 Mercedes-Benz B-Class E-Cell: Arriving late 2014. This subcompact electric car uses a 28-kWh lithium-ion battery pack under the floor to power a 75-kilowatt electric motor that generates 174 hp. The rechargeable battery is expected to provide about 100 miles of range per charge. Recharging on a 240-volt system will take an estimated 3.5 hours. Pricing hasn't been set, but expect it to be in the $40,000-$45,000 range.
2015 Model Year
2015 Acura NSX: Arriving late 2014 or early 2015. This hybrid is the long-awaited replacement for the original Acura NSX, which was discontinued in 2005. It will feature a mid-mounted V6 coupled with a high-performance version of the three-motor Sport Hybrid system introduced for the 2014 Acura RLX. One of the three electric motors will drive the rear wheels, while the other two will turn the front wheels. The car is expected to be quite light to maximize fuel economy, so it likely will make use of lots of aluminum or composites.
2015 Audi A3 E-tron Plug-In Hybrid: Expected mid-2014. After testing an all-electric version of its A3 hatchback, Audi has decided instead to launch a plug-in hybrid. Powertrain particulars include a turbocharged 1.4-liter, four-cylinder gas engine rated at 150 hp and a 75-hp electric motor powered by an 8.8-kWh lithium-ion battery pack. All-electric range is estimated at up to 31 miles, and charging time at 240 volts is about 3.5 hours.
2015 BMW X5 Plug-In Hybrid: BMW confirmed it will build this car as part of a $1-billion expansion of its U.S. manufacturing plant in Spartanburg, South Carolina. A prototype model recently demonstrated to the press in Europe delivered about 10 miles of all-electric range from a small, rechargeable lithium-ion battery that powers a 94-hp electric motor. On the gasoline side, the hybrid system uses a turbocharged 2.0-liter, four-cylinder engine rated at 241 hp.
2015 Honda fuel-cell car: Arrives late 2015. Honda's FCX Clarity hydrogen-fueled electric sedan is now being offered to a select group of consumers as a demonstration vehicle. The retail model to come in 2015 is a smaller and less expensive version based on a concept shown at the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show. Honda says this will be the first time an automaker will have packed the entire fuel-cell powertrain into a package that fits under the hood and doesn't take up cargo or passenger cabin space. The automaker is promising a range of just under 300 miles on a tank of hydrogen fuel, and 3-minute refueling at one of the nation's scant handful of hydrogen stations. As with other fuel-cell cars to come between 2015 and 2017, initial sales likely will be limited to Southern California and the San Francisco-Sacramento area of Northern California, where almost all of the existing and planned hydrogen stations are located.
2015 Hyundai Fuel-Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV): Hyundai was one of several major car companies that pledged to consumers and government air quality regulators in Asia, Europe and North America that it would begin producing fuel-cell electric vehicles for the retail market by 2015. The automaker recently unveiled the 2015 Tucson Fuel Cell and said it would be a lease-only vehicle, initially available only in Southern California. The $499 monthly lease price will include maintenance and unlimited fuel from the region's several public hydrogen fuel stations. Hyundai says the small crossover's electric-drive system will deliver 134 hp, with an estimated range of 270 miles from each tank of hydrogen fuel.
2015 Hyundai Sonata Plug-In Hybrid: Late 2015 or early 2016. This will be a plug-in variant of the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid. Expect overall fuel economy to be lots better than the conventional hybrid's 2014 rating of 38 mpg combined, thanks to a larger battery pack that will permit some amount of all-electric driving. And as has been the case with other plug-in versions of conventional hybrids, expect a heftier price tag as well. The plug-in Sonata will be closer to $32,000 than to the unplugged hybrid's $26,810 starting price.
2015 Kia Soul EV: Arrives in third quarter 2014 with initial sales limited to California, Oregon and a few Eastern states including Maryland, New Jersey and New York. The EV, which is Kia's first, is built on the redesigned Soul platform. It features a 109-hp electric motor with 210 pound-feet of torque and a lithium-ion battery pack that recharges at 240 volts in less than five hours. It delivers up to 100 miles of range. Pricing is expected to be around $30,000.
2015 Lexus RC 300h: Toyota's luxury division unveiled a new sporty coupe family, the RC line, at the 2013 Tokyo Auto Show and said it will include a hybrid version. The RC 300h will be powered by Toyota's well-known hybrid system, pairing a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder gasoline engine with a 105-kilowatt electric motor.
2015 Mazda 6 Skyactiv-D diesel: Mazda's much-delayed first diesel for the U.S. also will be one of just a handful of diesel passenger cars in this market. Power will come from a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that meets all of the new "clean diesel" specifications that put emissions on par with those from gasoline engines. Mazda's twist is that it says it can accomplish this without use of an expensive urea injection system for emissions treatment. That's a breakthrough that could represent a significant price break for car shoppers. The Mazda 6 diesel initially was expected as a 2014 model but has been delayed twice for further improvement of the engine's emissions and power characteristics. There are expectations that once the Mazda 6 diesel is here, the carmaker will begin migrating the diesel engine to other popular models it sells in the U.S.
2015 Mercedes-Benz S-Class Plug-In Hybrid: Early 2015. Mercedes has been teasing us with concept versions of an S-Class plug-in hybrid since 2009, but it now appears that the redesigned S-Class will indeed include a plug-in hybrid version for the U.S. market. The S500 PHEV will feature a turbocharged, 328-hp V6 engine and an 80-kilowatt electric motor. Combined, they are expected to be good for 0-60 acceleration in 5.5 seconds. European numbers, which are generally more optimistic than U.S. ratings, put all-electric range from the 10-kWh lithium-ion battery pack at about 19 miles. Mercedes-Benz also says it will introduce conventional and plug-in hybrid versions as well as a diesel model of the C-Class sedan but hasn't provided introduction dates.
2015 Mitsubishi Outlander Plug-In Hybrid: Arriving mid-to-late 2015. Mitsubishi wants to be among the first to market with a plug-in hybrid SUV. The Outlander PHEV, on sale elsewhere in the world since 2013, will feature an all-wheel-drive system powered by electric motors, plus a gasoline engine that will deliver several hundred miles of range and allow for continuous operation even when there's no charger available for the battery pack. The Japanese model delivers up to 30 miles of all-electric range and the U.S. version is expected to better that, with one Mitsubishi executive promising close to 40 miles on battery power alone. Pricing is expected to be in the neighborhood of $45,000.
2015 Porsche 918 Spyder Plug-In Hybrid: This will be a limited-edition model with a price tag close to $850,000. For that, buyers will get a drop top with a complex powertrain consisting of a 4.6-liter V8 rated at 608 hp and a pair of electric motors (one front, one rear) with a combined rating of 279 hp. All are linked to the wheels via a dual-clutch transmission. Top speed is estimated at 198 mph, and 0-60 time is said to be less than 3.2 seconds. Porsche is estimating an all-electric range of up to 18 miles (top speed 93 mph) and peak U.S. fuel economy at something close to 80 mpg, if the driver can keep the accelerator pedal off the floor.
2015 Porsche Cayenne Plug-In Hybrid: Arrives late 2014 or early 2015. This SUV will use an all-wheel-drive version of the hybrid system introduced in the 2014 Panamera PHEV, combining a 95-hp electric motor and a supercharged 3.0-liter V6 engine rated at 333 hp. It should deliver approximately the same 55-60 mpg fuel efficiency and 19 miles of all-electric range as the Panamera system.
2015 Tesla Model X: This is Tesla's first crossover: a utility vehicle based on the Tesla Model S sport sedan that launched in the summer of 2012. It will share about 60 percent of the Model S parts. The 2015 Model X will be the industry's first all-electric crossover and the first with overhead-opening doors, a system Tesla calls the "falcon-wing." The Model X will come in several trim levels with either 60-kWh or 85-kWh battery packs, as with the Model S. Expect the range per charge to be about 10 percent less because of the taller crossover's reduced aerodynamic efficiency. Expect pricing to begin at about $71,000 and top out slightly north of $100,000.
2015 Toyota FCV: Toyota also signed the fuel-cell pledge and has been running a fleet of fuel-cell electric Highlander SUVs for several years. Its first retail model, however, will be a sedan based on the fuel-cell vehicle design concept it displayed at the 2013 Tokyo Motor Show. The four-seater should deliver about 310 miles on a tank of hydrogen, with fuel economy pegged at the equivalent of 65 mpg. Toyota has said it hopes to get costs down by 2015 so it can price the car at about $50,000.
2015 Volkswagen E-Golf: Arrives late 2014. A 115-hp electric motor delivering 199 lb-ft of torque will power this battery-electric five-door hatchback. A 26.5-kWh lithium-ion battery pack fitted under the floor and rear seats will store and deliver energy to the motor without cutting into cabin space. VW says range between charges will be up to 93 miles. Top speed will be limited to 87 mph, and charging at 240 volts is expected to take about 4 hours. Pricing is expected to start around $35,000.
Model Year 2016
2016 Audi R8 E-tron: Audi recently confirmed that plans for the next-generation R8 sports car, due in 2016, include a battery-electric "E-tron" model. It will be built to order, meaning there will be few of them, and they will be very expensive. Powertrain details are scarce, but we've seen numbers suggesting that the all-electric R8 E-tron would produce close to 380 hp, with 0-60 acceleration in 4 seconds and a 125-mph top speed. Audi's been mum about battery size but said that it decided to do a built-by-request model when its ongoing EV development work extended the per-charge range of the R8 E-tron to about 280 miles. Audi executives said that was a range that would make the expensive sports car considerably more marketable than the 120 or so miles the initial design was capable of delivering.
2016 Infiniti plug-in hybrid sports car: All we know about this one is that Infiniti, Nissan's luxe division, has shown several concepts in the past, and last year a top Nissan planning executive said plans are to have a production Infiniti PHEV sports car in 2016.
Model Year 2017
2017 Audi Q8 E-tron: As Audi continues to push forward with electrification of its vehicles, its popular Q-series crossover is an obvious candidate. The SUV-styled Audi is big enough to hold a lot of battery and still provide decent room for cargo and passengers. Audi executives have said they intend to do plug-in hybrid versions of the A6 and A8 sedans and the Q7 crossover. But there's also an expectation that after the sporty Q8 crossover is launched in 2016, an all-electric version would follow in 2017, borrowing its powertrain and battery from the R8 E-tron.
2017 Bentley Plug-In Hybrid: The Volkswagen-owned British luxury car builder is showing a plug-in hybrid concept at this year's Beijing auto show that is based on its flagship Mulsanne sedan. But Bentley says it will use its new SUV, due in 2016, as the basis for a retail model plug-in hybrid it plans to introduce in 2017. The automaker hasn't released details except to say that the car's rechargeable battery pack should be capable of providing at least 30 miles of all-electric range and that there likely will be a driver-operated EV-mode switch to enable quiet all-electric driving in city centers where automobile noise and emissions are a significant issue.
2017 Ford fuel-cell car: Ford has been conspicuously quiet about its fuel-cell work for years now, but recently said that it has teamed with Daimler and Nissan Motor Corporation to develop hydrogen-powered fuel-cell electric cars that will go on sale in 2017.
2017 Mercedes-Benz F-Cell: Mercedes-Benz has been testing hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles for more than a decade and presently is running a demonstration program in Europe and the U.S. with the B-Class-based F-Cell. The company pledged in 2011 to have mass-market fuel-cell cars ready by 2015, but recently said it is delaying things until 2017 in hopes that the market, technology and fuel availability will improve. Mercedes' parent, Daimler, recently signed a fuel-cell technology development deal with Ford Motor Company and Nissan Motor Corporation, with the aim of beginning production of fuel-cell electric vehicles for each company in 2017.
2017 Nissan fuel-cell car: Nissan is one of a number of automakers that have been developing and testing fuel-cell vehicles for more than a decade now. Its first retail model likely will be the result of the Daimler-Ford-Nissan development program.
2017 Tesla midsize car: The third-generation Tesla has not yet been named, but it will be the company's shot at entering the mainstream midsize family-car market with an electric vehicle that's priced under $45,000. The carmaker has delayed this smaller Tesla several times as it worked on getting its successful Model S to market, but Tesla Chairman Elon Musk says he's now aiming for a late 2016 launch. The company also is discussing a multiple-model lineup, including a sedan and a crossover. A new Tesla sports car, to replace the Tesla Roadster that was discontinued in 2011, could follow.