We’re getting ready for an onslaught of EV launches and pretty soon we’re going to be spoiled for choice when it comes to the electric vehicle on our drive. We’ll look back on the day when we could have a Tesla or a, ummm, Tesla, and laugh.
But even though the US is the biggest market for EVs, there are still lots of them around the world that you just can’t buy here. Now, to be fair, we wouldn’t want most of them. A lot of EVs that aren’t imported are low-cost efforts for developing nations. Some of them, though, are amazing.
Here are 11 of the best, quirkiest and plain interesting EVs that you can’t buy in America, but you wish you could.
1. Renault Zoe
This stylish five-door city car could be a real threat to the likes of the Smart Forfour Electric and even the Nissan Leaf. It’s the best-selling EV of all time in France and it only launched in 2012.
It has also topped the charts as the best-selling EV in Europe for the past two years and in 2016 it was the eight best-selling EV in the world.
In September 2016, Renault introduced a 41kWh battery pack that gave the car a 250-mile range, but that’s on the European cycle and even Renault claims 190 miles in real world conditions. The EPA would give the Zoe a rating of around 150 miles.
It comes with a 66kW (89bhp) motor that produces 162lb/ft of torque. It gets to 60mph in 13.2s and tops out at 84mph. So, technically, it makes you wonder why the rest of the world is going so nuts for this thing.
But it’s a city car and it compensates for the lack of range with an affordable sticker price. It also looks good, drives like a relatively normal car and comes with the Renault badge that gives it credibility in Europe.
It’s also the major obstacle to this car ever making it to the US. Renault left American soil with its tail between its legs in the 60s after a woeful time trying to sell the Dauphine and Renault 10 to a country that loved Oldsmobiles and Crown Imperials.
Now Renault and Nissan are part of the same group, Nissan is firmly established in the US and there’s just no chance of Renault coming back. So you’ll have to wait for the Leaf and you’ll never be able to buy the French city car with the girl’s name.
2. Qiantu K50
This Chinese sportscar looks as good as anything we’ve seen and there are plans afoot to bring it to the US. But, right now, it’s not for sale on these shores.
There are elements of Audi R8 with a much more sculpted front end, recessed lights and massive air intakes. The wheels look stunning and the good news keeps coming under the skin.
It is four-wheel-drive thanks to a pair of motors, one for each axle, that combine to pump out 304kW (408bhp) and 442lb/ft of torque. That will send it screaming through the 62mph mark in 4.6s and it comes with a range of more than 170 miles.
The bodywork is carbon-fiber, while high-tensile aluminum for 80% of the body helps to keep the weight down. Inside, the whole car is controlled by a Tesla-style touchscreen in the center console and the instrument panel if another liquid-crystal display.
If anything, the coupe is better looking. But we have a soft spot for the soft-top and we’d be more than happy to see this car go on sale in the US.
3. Nissan e-NV200
Only Nissan can provide the answer as to why the e-NV200 isn’t for sale in the US, as this seems to be the light commercial vehicle that we’re waiting for from Tesla.
It’s a crossover van that can also be configured as a 5-seat minibus with acres of storage space in the boot. So, it’s potentially a budget alternative to the Tesla Model X. Of course, Nissan knows this, that’s why the petrol-powered NV200 is in active service as the New York Yellow Cab.
You can buy the NV200 in all its forms in the US, but we haven’t been granted access to the e-NV200. That’s not fair.
The 80kW motor is more than enough to haul a load or a full complement of people. Nissan claims a range of 106 miles, too, although that’s not an EPA figure and you might struggle to get more than 80 miles on a charge. The van does come with a unique navigation system that plans the most efficient route, though, which will help.
With a fast charger, the e-NV200 recharged its battery to 80% in less than 30 minutes, too, so this is a car that could work in the city and should be used for the new Yellow Cab.
It’s in active service as a taxi in Barcelona and Madrid, as well as a service vehicle for British Gas and a delivery service for the legendary Harrods store. So America really needs to get with the program on this one.
Have a word with yourself Nissan and get this car over here, pronto.
4. Geely Emgrand EV
China is about to become the world’s largest market for EVs, and this is one of the best-selling pure EVs the country has.
Is it the best EV you can buy in China? That’s a totally different question and the answer is no. But this is a cost-effective sedan that has won the hearts and minds of the Chinese public.
Geely is also a massive company that makes cars, taxis, motorbikes and parts, as well as owning Volvo. So, it has the financial clout to offer solid lease deals and financial incentives.
Unlike a lot of the Chinese start-ups that have sprung up from nowhere, Geely is also likely to be here in a few years. That counts for something when you’re spending big money on a car.
The Emgrand EV is based on one of China’s best-selling saloons, the EC7, and will share information with Volvo for the next generation. This car comes with a 93kW motor and a range of approximately 155 miles in real world conditions.
It hits 60mph in 9.9s and tops out at a less than impressive 87mph. On the plus side, this car sells for the equivalent of $28,000. So if it hit the market and was eligible for tax incentives, then it would be a seriously cheap machine.
It wouldn’t be close to a match for the Chevy Bolt, or the Tesla Model 3, but it’s a relatively big car that could suit a specific type of buyer that wants a big car and doesn’t need to worry about the range.
Either way, it’s not coming to America in this form. You will see certain elements on the next generation of Volvos. But we hope the Swedish marque uses it for inspiration, rather than direct input, as this car is technically a long way behind the best we have to offer.
5. Volkswagen e-Up!
We recently told you not to buy the VW e-Golf, which is pretty much a compliance car and a stopgap measure until the real Volkswagen electric vehicles land in the coming year. But the VW e-Up! could be a different story.
It’s a pure city car, a compact hatchback, so the 99-mile range really isn’t so much of a big deal as you’d have to be a masochist to spend serious time on the highway.
Like many other manufacturers, VW simply doesn’t think there’s a market for compact hatchbacks in America. So, it didn’t put the petrol-powered Up! on the market here and it stood to reason that we’d never see the electric version.
It’s a shame, though, because, unlike the e-Golf that is completely dominated by the likes of the Chevy Bolt and even the BMW i3, this is a car with a USP. It’s small enough to slip through traffic and get you to work and back with minimal fuss. It’s also much cheaper than the e-Golf on European soil at least.
With virtually no fuel costs, it could be an ideal starter EV or even a car for a college kid.
The 60kW (81bhp) motor dishes out 155lb/ft of torque, which won’t win any awards, but it’s enough to propel this tiny machine to 60mph in 12.4s and a top speed of 81mph.
It gets cruise control, automatic headlights, emergency braking assist, rear parking sensors and a whole host of premium options that mark this car apart from the usual shopping trolleys in the class. It’s also a stylish little thing that is small enough and quirky enough to attract buyers with sheer charm.
6. Lada Vesta EV
Lada became a bit of a joke when the Russian manufacturer tried to send its cars overseas. The rough and ready Niva 4×4 became a cult hero, but that’s the only car that’s really made an impact outside of Russia.
Even there, it has struggled with EVs and sold just eight of the ElLada. The harsh winters are tough on the batteries’ output, Russia is vast and people often have to cover long distances and EVs tend to be expensive.
The ElLada, though, had a solid range for a car that was launched in 2012. In summer, it would cover between 100-140 miles and even in winter it could cover up to 80 miles. The new Lada Vesta goes further.
It is fitted with a 60kW (82bhp) motor, does 60mph in 15.5s and tops out at 80mph. It also costs the equivalent of $40,000 in Russia. So to bring it to the US then the Russian marque would have to cut the price drastically, because on a purely technical level it cannot compete with the likes of the Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3.
This is a good-looking car and, at the right price, we’d like to see it here.
7. Mitsubishi Minicab CD Van MiEV
We have the Misubishi MiEV and it’s starting to look a little long in the tooth. It’s cheap, but it simply isn’t a match for the likes of the Kia Soul, let alone the Chevy Bolt or Tesla Model 3.
But the minibus version has a real USP. Small businesses, cab firms and families that do need the space but don’t need the range could have welcomed the miniature, boxy bus with open arms. They might not look twice at the compact hatchback that is available on these shores.
It had just 30.5kW (41bhp) and 145lb/ft of torque when it launched in 2011 and could carry a 750lb payload. But for a city-based business that needs to make deliveries, that could be more than enough.
It has a top speed of 71mph, it’s painfully slow to 60mph and it is, to all intents and purposes, a bit of a joke. But for certain circumstances, it could work like a charm.
8. Peugeot iOn
It’s another city car from a French manufacturer, but this one is so cute that we almost want to give it a little scratch behind the ear.
It’s a packaging marvel that somehow manages to squeeze four doors and seats into a miniscule footprint. It’s tall, but it looks stunning, it gets a wheel on each corner so the handling is sharp and that snub nose means you can place it easily in city traffic.
Now don’t go looking for outrageous power. This car gets a 47kW (64bhp) motor that’s good for 140lb/ft of torque. That links up to a 16kWh battery. It really doesn’t sound like a lot, but this is a lightweight car with no gearbox and it’s sharp enough round town.
It was designed from the ground up as an EV, so the batteries are in the floor, Tesla-style, which gives it a low center of gravity and that pays off in the bends. It gets a four-star Euro NCAP crash rating, despite its small size, and it might well be the blueprint for the autonomous taxi pods of the future.
9. BIRO City Car
Think the Smart fortwo is small? Prepare to think again and feast your eyes on the BIRO City Car.
It’s a pure commuter car and you might prefer to take the metro than climb behind the wheel of a machine that seems to hark back to the days when electric cars were just overblown golf carts.
Look closer, though, and the BIRO could be a unique answer to inner city congestion and the lack of charging stations that currently put people off buying an EV. You see, when you arrive at work, you can just pull the battery out of this machine and take it with you like a flight case on wheels.
This Italian machine has a top speed of 28mph, so you’d probably get pulled over by the cops if you ventured on to the freeway. It comes with 25 miles of range, too, which means it is meant for a seriously limited market.
It costs from €9,480 ($12,500) before any local tax incentives. So, you might prefer an e-bike and we might agree with you. But it is kind of cool in its own special way.
10. Mahindra e2o Plus
We’re not sure how it would fare in the NHTSA crash tests, but the Mahindra is a clear example of how electric cars can actually be affordable.
This is one of India’s best-selling EVs. It’s a city car and it certainly isn’t pretending to be anything it isn’t. It’s all about the mass market, but we need cars like this to filter through on US soil.
Electric cars are pretty much a premium product right now and we need the masses to make the switch. Cheaper cars are a simple way to encourage that and the Mahindra costs approximately $8,100 in India, without any tax breaks. It would be more expensive once it arrives here, but hopefully not much more.
The base spec Mahindra has a 19kW electric motor, which sounds almost asthmatic, but it still hits 35mph in 14.4s. The more powerful 30kW motor takes the car to 35mph in 9.5s. We can’t give you a 0-60mph, because it never gets to 60mph. The top speed is just 50mph, but then with a city car that’s borderline irrelevant.
This car really is all about the price and the Indian marque has shown us that we can make an EV for minimal money. Even if we never get the actual car, that pricing philosophy would do well on US soil.
11. Renault Twizy
Yes, it’s the second Renault on the list, but how could we ignore the adorable little Twizy?
It’s a two-seater that is actually classed as a quad bike, it comes with a 62-mile range, a top speed of 50mph and it’s more or less open to the elements so you wouldn’t want to go faster.
It comes in three flavors and costs less than $10,000, but that doesn’t include the battery and you have to lease that for a monthly fee.
It’s woefully impractical, you can’t take it outside the city and it really is a concept that somehow sold 17,000 units across Europe. It’s a novelty and people loved it, so there are a lot of them serving as mobile advertising hoardings in cities across the world.