Rivals race to catch up with Tesla at New York Auto Show

Why aren’t more people buying loads of electric vehicles in the U.S.?

Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault and Nissan attempted to answer this question during the 2016 New York International Auto Show on Wednesday morning. The consistently low sales are a “temporary slowdown," expected to ramp up as governments put more pressure on companies to improve the carbon emissions of their vehicles, Ghosn said. However, the real challenge for auto makers may be motivating consumers to buy them.

In 2015, electric vehicles held their lowest market share since 2011, as SUVs saw a major bump in demand, making up about one-third of auto sales. Despite the woes of the overall electric vehicle market, Tesla reported a record number of deliveries of its Model S in the third quarter of 2015.

Tesla, which sells cars directly to consumers, is not presenting in New York this year, but has managed to stay in the headlines with the upcoming introduction of its affordable Model 3 — which will start at $35,000 before incentives — on March 31. With the latest addition to Elon Musk’s fleet of battery-powered cars expected to make waves in the market, auto makers are attempting to create similar hype with futuristic yet practical electric cars. Tesla also skipped the North American International Auto Show and did not respond to request for comment as to why it was not at the New York show.

After introducing its revamped Highlander SUV, Toyota headlined its auto show event with the new “Transformers"-sounding Prius Prime. Presented as a premium hybrid plug-in version of the Prius, the environmentally friendly vehicle drove on to the stage accompanied by a light show and surrounded by floating bulbs. Aside from its 600-mile electric and gasoline combined driving range and the convenience of plugging into a normal household outlet, its 84-mile per hour speed range in all-electric mode makes it not only eco-friendly, but “fun to drive." Prices for the Prius Prime have yet to be announced, but the 2016 Prius has a manufacturer’s suggested retail price of $24,200.

Hyundai touted a similarly “fun" lineup of all-electric and hybrid vehicles about an hour later at the unveiling of its Ioniq product line. Ecologist David de Rothschild introduced the cars, displayed before a series of nature photos, cityscapes and even millennials, a lucrative target market for alternative fuel vehicles. Hyundai executives appeared on video banners, urging drivers to “make the right choice" for the environment by choosing energy-efficient vehicles. With a horsepower range of 104 to 139 among the three vehicles in the lineup, de Rothschild called the Ioniq line “zero emissions that is fun to drive."

These newly introduced electric vehicles are competing for attention on a floor that features Nissan’s updated GT-R, a mean-looking sports car that goes by the nickname “Godzilla," and already-popular SUVs, such as the Lincoln Navigator, with futuristic upgrades like falcon wings. However, the real competition may not be at the show, but 3,000 miles away at Tesla’s headquarters in Palo Alto, Calif.

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