Scott Kluth has a love-hate relationship with his new Fisker Karma luxury electric sedan.
The 34-year-old car lover bought the plug-in hybrid electric Karma in December for $107,850, but five days later the car's battery died as he was driving in downtown Chicago. While the car he affectionately calls a "head turner" was fixed in a recall, Kluth remains uncertain how much he will drive it.
"I just want a car that works," Kluth said. "It's a fun car to drive. It's just that I've lost confidence in it."
The Karma's problems — one vehicle died during testing by Consumer Reports this month — follow bad publicity arising from a probe of General Motors Co's Chevrolet Volt and weak sales of the car, and the closure or bankruptcy of several electric vehicle-related start-ups.
The unrelenting bad news has led to questions about the readiness of electric cars and raises fresh doubts about a technology that has been around since the late 1890s but is still struggling to win over the public.
Whether electric vehicles can find an audience beyond policymakers in Washington and Hollywood celebrities depends on lowering vehicle prices without selling cars at a loss, analysts and industry executives say, while extending driving range to make the cars competitive with their gasoline-powered peers.
"It's going to be a slow slog," said John O'Dell, senior green car editor at industry research firm Edmunds.com. "Maybe there's too much expectation of more and quicker success than might realistically be expected of a brand new technology."
He also questioned whether priorities will simply change for whomever is U.S. president after the November election. Electric vehicles could lose tax breaks — currently worth $7,500 a vehicle for buyers — particularly if a Republican ends up in the White House.
Edmunds expects pure electric cars and plug-in hybrids to make up only 1.5 percent of the U.S. market in 2017, compared with 0.1 percent last year, and O'Dell said that may be optimistic. Consumers charge all-electric cars by plugging into an outlet, while hybrid versions include a gasoline engine.
President Barack Obama's administration has been a strong proponent of electric vehicles like the Volt and set a goal of getting 1 million battery-powered vehicles on the road by 2015. Lux Research estimates that number will actually be fewer than 200,000. Both the Volt and Karma's development were supported by low-interest federal loans.
That has not dissuaded automakers, many of which plan to launch electric vehicles to join the Volt and Nissan's all-electric Leaf in a bid to meet rising fuel efficiency standards. Toyota has begun selling a plug-in Prius, and EVs from Ford, Honda, BMW and Fiat will join the fray this year, along with cars from start-ups Tesla and Coda Automotive.