Autos Weekly: The Electric Gold Rush Continues

Every Friday, we present a Foolish roundup of auto stories you may have missed -- small stories of interest as well as updates to larger ongoing stories we've been following at the Fool. This week, I look at a promising step forward for Honda (NYSE: HMC  ) , an inevitable move from Hyundai, and the latest in recall dramas -- this time involving a surprising name.

A big product launch for Honda
On Wednesday, I took Honda to task for its lackluster product efforts of late. With competitors like a hyper-focused Ford (NYSE: F  ) , a Toyota (NYSE: TM  ) with something to prove in the wake of its recall drama, and a surging General Motors -- not to mention we're-not-an-upstart-anymore Hyundai -- Honda's recent less-than-exemplary product debuts just won't cut it. I fear that Honda's at risk of some serious market-share damage.

Naturally, having published that on Wednesday, the press embargo on the company's all-new Odyssey minivan was lifted the next morning. While I haven't yet seen one in the metal, it looks at this distance like exactly the kind of slam-dunk product Honda has needed for a while. The interior looks exactly right, the list of features is impressive, reviewers are praising Honda's choice of materials and finish, and while it's a bit down on power compared to Toyota's V6 Sienna, it looks to have leapfrogged its key Japanese rival.

Unfortunately for Detroit partisans, Toyota and Honda are the key players in this segment nowadays. Chrysler, which invented the minivan in its modern form, and whose products used to be the gold standard here, has faded into a distant third place in the segment. GM and Ford? They don't even make minivans anymore.

Another hat in the electric-car ring
Speaking of Hyundai, the Korean auto giant unveiled its first electric car Thursday, announcing a goal of bringing it to market sometime in 2012. The Hyundai BlueOn (hey, I don't name 'em, I just report 'em) is a small four-seater about the size of the Nissan Leaf. It's powered by batteries made by Korean firm SK Energy, and it has a claimed range of 87 miles -- roughly comparable to the Leaf's. That is likely to be enough for many commuters, though it's well short of the 300 miles claimed by Tesla Motors (Nasdaq: TSLA  ) for its much larger upcoming Model S.

Hyundai was vague about exactly where it plans to sell the BlueOn, and when, but this may just be a matter of wanting to wait and see where (and if) electric vehicles finally take off. The U.S. would seem to be a likely candidate. With everyone from Ford and GM to Tier 1 suppliers like Johnson Controls (NYSE: JCI  ) and Magna International (NYSE: MGA  ) investing big bucks in an electrified automotive future for the U.S., it's likely to be a well-informed, competitive market. But whether U.S. consumers will actually adopt electric cars en masse remains an open question.

There's a "fire engine red" joke in here somewhere
Another week, another Toyota recall, this time in Australia, where 116,507 examples of the Hilux truck -- a cousin of the midsized Tacoma pickup sold in the U.S. -- were recalled for a suspension defect. This follows on the heels of the huge Corolla and Matrix recall in the U.S. and Canada that was announced at the end of last month, which affected 1.13 million cars.

At this point, the total number of Toyotas recalled this year is well into eight figures -- and it's still only September. But while Toyota's experience this year has been off the charts, it's worth remembering that all automakers have recalls, some chronically. Ford's quality may top the charts these days, but it hasn't always been so -- August's recall of the automaker's much-troubled Windstar minivans for corroding rear axles was the eleventh time those vans have been recalled.

And that "fire engine red" joke? Iconic Italian supercar maker Ferrari has been forced to recall its $230,000 458 Italia sportscar for a small problem: Several have caught fire in spectacular fashion because of a defective heat shield. I always thought Ferraris were hot, but this is ridiculous.

True to its name, The Motley Fool is made up of a motley assortment of writers and analysts, each with a unique perspective; sometimes we agree, sometimes we disagree, but we all believe in the power of learning from each other through our Foolish community.

Fool contributor John Rosevear almost bought a decrepit old Ferrari once, but ended up buying a decrepit old Aston Martin instead. He owns no exotic cars at the moment, but he does hold shares of Ford. Ford is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation, and you can try Stock Advisor or any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool has an electrifying disclosure policy.


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