Weekly Brief: Ultramini BEVs Unlikely to Score in Supersizing US

The EV revolution is going ultramini.

Nissan and Mitsubishi unveiled a pair of mini electric vehicles that will hit the Japanese market this summer. Everything about the EVs is diminutive. Their length measures in at 24 inches shorter than the smallest Mini Cooper. Their engine offers a petite 63 horsepower. Their battery range is 111 miles per charge and their price tag is $14,000 after subsidies. Nissan’s mini EV is called the Sekura; Mitsubishi’s goes by the eK X. Both will be built on the same EV architecture manufactured by the Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi alliance.

Americans have shown little interest in the ultramini vehicle segment. With each passing year, vehicles in the US get taller, longer, wider. They add doors and expand into pickup trucks. A fraction of Americans actually need a pickup truck. No wonder it’s our most popular vehicle segment.

Yet, in Japan where space is at a premium in its dense urban environments and modesty is a cultural norm, ultraminis are all the rage. They make up 40% of the passenger vehicle market and are the vehicle of choice for workers who commute into the city from the suburbs. To date, there is only one other EV ultramini in the segment, the Toyota C+pod two seater. The Nissan Sekura seats four and Mitsubishi’s eK X seats five. Both offer three drive modes – Eco, Standard and Sport – and autonomous parking thanks to ProPILOT Park. “We believe [these vehicles] will be a gamechanger for the Japanese market and will make EVs much more accessible to customers in Japan,” said Nissan executive vice-president, Asako Hoshino.

Delivering a sub-$30,000 EV has proven challenging for automakers as they race to build battery factories and global supply chains and economies of scale that will allow them to drive down EV sticker prices. Breaking the sub-$20,000 price point is all the more difficult and yet affordability is one of the chief concerns that consumers have with EVs, along with range anxiety. A beautiful Tesla, a fancy Mercedes-Benz EV, or a shiny new Rivian pickup truck is way out of the ballpark for your average consumer. The Nissan Sekura and the Mitsubishi eK X are not.

Don’t expect any ultramini EVs in the US anytime soon. Certainly there is a place for them in Europe as well as Asia, especially as the world plunges toward a reality in which the price of gasoline goes above six dollars per gallon, as it is expected to do this summer.

In other news last week, Tesla got thrown off the S&P 500 ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) Index owing to the company’s poor track record responding to worker complaints, its CEO’s proclivity for unpredictable and controversial statements and actions and its growing list of federal investigations for safety failures. Its CEO Elon Musk responded in a predictably unpredictable and controversial way, labeling all of ESG “a scam” that “has been weaponized by phony social justice warriors”. Tesla stock plunged more than 6%, wiping out more than $10Bn in value. Musk’s ire stems from the fact that his company has arguably [Yes, very arguably – Ed] done as much for the E component of ESG than any other company out there, leading a transition away from combustion engines to battery powered transportation.

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