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PHOTO CAPTION: Tesla's next act, the Model X will seek to fill another niche, just as other crossover models do.

Guess What? Gas Cars Are Niche Vehicles, Too

Part one of series by Mark Rogowsky in which he argues that there is no such thing as a all-purpose automobile. All have their limitations, just like electric cars.

Published: 19-Feb-2013

In the battle between the New York Times and Tesla over just how far you can drive in the electric-vehicle maker’s Model S, one thing in the multitude of articles really caught my attention. It was right here at Forbes, where Joann Muller wrote: “Until the price of electric vehicles falls dramatically and there is a national network of charging stations as prevalent and easy to access as today’s gas stations, electric cars will be nothing more than niche vehicles.”

The Times-Tesla dust-up didn’t do anything to dispel the notion that a Model S can travel 200 or more miles in luxury that’s been favorably compared to an Audi A8 or BMW 7-series. But it did make clear how in the rush to compare something new — an electric car capable of getting on a freeway and going somewhere – with something familiar — a gasoline-powered car that has always done that — we find ourselves drawing the frame of reference in a way to tell whatever story we want. Over the next few days, I’ll ask you to look at the story through a slightly different lens. In this installment, I’ll examine what it really means to be a “niche vehicle”, and how your current car probably fits the definition a lot better than you realize.

This seems like it ought to be obvious right? We ask them to get us where we want to go. But it turns out, we don’t often want to go very far. In fact, according to data gathered by the Department of Transportation, 97% of vehicle trips are less than 50 miles and 88% of them are under 20. In other words, even a Nissan Leaf (with a 73-mile range) could comfortably get you there and back without recharging for about 9 in every 10 automobile trips taken in the entire country.

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