By Neal E. Boudette
ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Just before Thanksgiving, Ken Westerman came close to buying his first fully electric car, a Tesla Model 3.
A retired music teacher with an interest in protecting the environment, Mr. Westerman was looking to replace the hybrid car he had been driving for years, a red Toyota Prius, and test-drove a Model 3. He was dazzled by the car but concluded that the limits of its range — 300 miles on a single charge — would complicate his regular trips from Ann Arbor to the East Coast and Arkansas.
“Those are six- to eight-hour trips, and if you have to stop to charge up, that would add two hours each way,” Mr. Westerman said. “I absolutely loved the car, but the range was the killer.” Instead of the Model 3, he bought another Prius.
Mr. Westerman’s decision should serve as a caution sign during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Electric vehicles will be a hot topic at the showcase, which opens to the news media and industry executives on Monday and to the public on Saturday.
Automakers are preparing to introduce dozens of fully electric cars and plug-in hybrid vehicles over the next three years, and Hyundai, Kia, Mini, Nissan and Audi will display electric models due in the United States this year. It is a gambit based on the idea that many mainstream car owners will rush to make the leap from gasoline.
But to sell all those cars, the manufacturers have to attract a new class of customer.
Mainstream consumers may be harder to win over than the wealthy luxury car buyers, hard-core environmentalists and early adopters who have flocked to buy Model 3s and delivered Tesla’s rapid sales growth. That may be especially true in the middle of the country, because charging stations are more sparse there than on the coasts, where most Tesla models are sold.