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Ford (NYSE: F ) will see your bluff, Nissan, and raise you one more.
Ever since Nissan announced its entry into the electric car race, the company has dominated headlines with its bold pronouncement: Unlike GM's vaunted Volt at $40,000-plus, or Tesla Motors' six-figure pocket electric rocket, when Nissan puts the Leaf electric car up for sale, it will sell for no more than what a small family sedan will cost -- call it $25,000 to $30,000.
Nissan made good on the boast last week, pricing the Leaf at just $33,000, $25,000 after federal incentives, and as low as $21,000 in California and Georgia thanks to state "green" tax credits. The shockingly low price tag promises to drive a stake through GM's electric heart. But unlike GM, Ford's not going down without a fight.
In addition to announcing its electric charging partnership with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) last week, Ford made a bluff of its own. Encouraging buyers to wait before paying greenbacks for green Leaves, Ford announced that its electric offering (an electric Focus) will be price-competitive with the Leaf.
Ford's pole position
Nissan's lowball price may persuade potential GM shoppers to delay purchasing a few weeks (the Volt is due out this November, the Leaf in December.) Ford, in contrast, isn't expected to have its Focus out until next year. But if price parity isn't enough to make buyers wait, Ford has one more trick up its sleeve. Before the Leaf hits the road, Ford will begin delivering electric "Transit Connect" delivery vans in the fourth quarter (including one batch that AT&T (NYSE: T ) has already laid claim to), giving buyers a sneak peek at its version of the technology.
Foolish final thought
Will fielding an electric van-guard pave the way for future Focus sales? And even if it does, can Ford afford to sell a "limited" run of electric cars -- sans scale-of-production efficiencies -- at only $30,000 a pop? For that matter, can Nissan? And can GM make a profit on these electro-buggies even at $40,000 apiece?
It doesn't matter. With the Obama administration mandating an average 35.5 mpg throughout automakers' fleets by 2016, production of zero-gas-usage electric cars becomes a necessity. Sell an "electric Focus" at 0 mpg, and you free up the road for F150's to squeeze past the mpg tollgate.
Never mind that these electric cars do use energy. (Not gasoline, per se, but Peabody (NYSE: BTU ) coal, brought to your car by way of the friendly electricians at American Electric Power (NYSE: AEP ) , for example.) The important thing is that they boast "0 mpg."