Electric Cars Still Aren't Taking Off

Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) has had great success with its battery-electric Model S luxury sedan. But the big global automakers -- the folks who are supposed to know all about making cars -- haven't managed to do a whole lot with the technology yet. What's the deal?

In this video, Fool.com contributor John Rosevear looks at the latest sales numbers for the "other" battery-electric cars -- and at what the big guys have done to try to get their slow sales to start taking off.

Tesla's plan to disrupt the global auto business has yielded spectacular results. But giant competitors are already moving to disrupt Tesla. Will the company be able to fend them off? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available. Get instant access by clicking here now.


Read/Post Comments (17) | Recommend This Article (2)

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  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 9:43 AM, Dadw5boys wrote:

    We are waiting to them to put trailor hitches on the electric cars so we can carry a generator to get to the beach without stopping.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 9:54 AM, mottledtool wrote:

    If there is one thing that auto manufacturers like General Motors love and protect, it is their model hierarchy and the profits built into it. The way that GM likes it is cramped, noisy, economical little cars on the bottom end and big, luxurious, inefficient cars and SUVs on the high end with a nice fat profit margin built in. In GM's ordered universe electric cars would be quirky, oddly styled little eggs that tree huggers and college professors drive around town. Tesla has already spoiled all of that. By selling attractive, expensive electric cars to early adopters Tesla has upset the hierarchy. GM would like to keep the electric car down at the low end where they could play the "We made it but the numbers just don't add up" game for at least a couple more decades. Tesla's top down approach pressures GM and the other traditional players as much as their technology does. Witness how GM is repositioning the Volt from a Chevrolet economy car to a Cadillac 'green luxury' car. This is all Tesla's doing. By breaking into GM's most profitable market, high end luxury, they've forced GM to break form and try to fend Tesla off in that market. Tesla is acting, the big dinosaurs are reacting. They are being forced into change that they would prefer wasn't happening at all. By embracing new technology and applying it intelligently Tesla has turned into a major industry

    influence. This won't change until GM and the rest stop wishing that things would just go back to being as they were. The day of the electric egg is over. It's time to build real cars that don't use petroleum.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 11:16 AM, truthiscomplex wrote:

    It might help if automakers would offer a greater plug-in hybrid selection first. They really have not offered a plug-in hybrid selection for popular vehicles that can carry more people and gear, AWD, etc. They could greatly reduce air pollution in cities and near high traffic roads where it concentrates and increases the risk of heart attack deaths, strokes, asthma attacks, etc. They also could still run on conventional fuels on road trips and in more remote areas, making them appealing to a larger group of people. In the meantime, the price of batteries will likely drop and the technology will improve as it does with things that go from relatively rare and almost custom made to common and mass produced. In the meantime, bravo for Tesla's solar powered charging stations which add more clean energy to the grid. We are already capable of vehicle charging with solar panels, (and wind, landfill-methane, and soon geothermal) at home, work, and some of the places we run errands. Looking forward to the Tesla crossover vehicle coming.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 11:32 AM, oneofthemasses wrote:

    At my income a $30,000 is just out of reach let alone 60 to 100K. I believe this is true for most Americans. Coupled with limited use and range it becomes even less of a bargain. I investigated into converting my own and discovered the problem with cost. It's the batteries. Even deep cycle wet acid batteries the price is way to high. Many of the other parts are to high also. These technologies are not new by a long shot. Electric cars were built in the 1800s. Solve these problems and the customers will come.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 11:56 AM, rudolfvs wrote:

    Anyone who buy an electric cars just has to be plain ignorant.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 12:31 PM, Sheeemo wrote:

    I read one article in the morning from LA Times that says "Strong Demand...Supplies short..."

    http://www.latimes.com/business/autos/la-fi-hy-autos-electri...

    Then see this...no wonder people are confused--

    I love my VOLT!...EVs are great...and will get better!

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 12:51 PM, jwilson08 wrote:

    I wish they would stop trying t0 build the electric car as an suv-4 person-do it all- disaster that costs too much money. Build a single person commuter car, light as can be made and SIMPLE. I need it just for a 20 minute commute, this way the range works fine and I can plug it in each night at home. STOP BUILDING THE VOLT, it is exactly what we DO NOT NEED.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 12:51 PM, Albert0Knox wrote:

    I think I am about to take the plunge. The success of EVs is almost an inevitability and it would be cool to try one before everyone has one. The difficult part will be getting consumer acceptance since the automotive media loves to sample and praise high horsepower models more than anything. That is where Tesla broke through with some auto fans like me. Tesla's high performance is making me think seriously about a Volt. We'll see what happens. Preconceptions are made to be broken. Diesel is smelly and slow until an Audi A8 diesel blows by you at 130mph.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 1:12 PM, Buzzrammet wrote:

    I have to agree about two confusing aspects to this story. I see people I know waiting to buy one. The Prius is still the most in demand for combo, but pure electric is hard to find.

    As well, as shown by rudolfvs you are dealing with an ignorant populace that only looks at electric cars as some sort of commie, socialist, marxist, muslim plot to destroy America.

    The biggest problem I see is both availability and the makers who just don't seem to really want to make them. What I see are electric cars that are either really attractive and very expensive or inexpensive (relatively speaking) and ugly as sin on Sunday.

    I think that if they really wanted to they could ramp up production and make the cars look really desirable. That is after all, the first thing people look at in buying a car.

    I'd love to get an all electric car that charged well and drove around town all day and was a good looking car to boot. Without the third, the first two are going to be a hard sell. Nonetheless there is a demand and I believe Detroit is pushing to keep oil based autos.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 1:30 PM, sliderw wrote:

    Range and charging time: One of these (if not both) needs to get better, without raising cost.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 2:04 PM, MellowGuy1 wrote:

    Truthiscomplex has it right.

    I currently drive an AWD hybrid SUV, and don't want a second vehicle. I drive less than 10,000 miles a year, but do make some long trips and want to be able to have the performance and safety of my current vehicle.

    I saw a C-Max Energi in a parking lot a few days ago and it almost meets my wants, but I am waiting for a plug-in hybrid version of my SUV. A plug-in hybrid AWD minivan would also work for me.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 2:43 PM, Money2themax wrote:

    GM and the petroleum industry have long been comfortable bedfellows. Certainly the powers that be in big oil are doing their level best to keep the big three automakers from doing any fully electric vehicles and to make only the most modest mileage increases possible in all new automobiles. And, thus far, this is what we have been seeing. Hybrids were a compromise that GM and others did not want to make, but had little choice-- yet, one can note that even these present only modest gains in terms of fuel economy. And, the oil companies certainly like this. (Note that the hybrids are designed to be tweaked for extra mileage-- but, only for when there is an outcry from either the public or the government.)

    Tesla and to a certain extent Nissan, have upset the apple cart for the big three automakers. After trying to derail Tesla and others by claiming battery safety issues, Consumer Reports weighed in with a perfect ten for Tesla and destroyed that strategy. And now, with China now laying the groundwork to compete in the electric car industry (see the recent Geeley news), the 'electric' genie let out of the bottle by Tesla is now never going back again.

    The writing is on the wall for the big three-- and, one can be reasonably certain that they have long had designs for excellent electric cars (better than the Volt) for a long time but only now, with the fall of big oil, can these be dusted off.

    It is significant to note that it is not urban legend that carburetors that could go upwards of fifty miles per gallon with 1960's vintage large automobiles existed. But, these 'experimental' carburetors only saw the light of day once (the incident that I am aware of) by accident. ...And GM rushed to cover that up. Certainly, other patents that would have allowed cars to sip gasoline rather than guzzle it sit as prototypes on GM shelves-- and for those inventors that didn't sell their patents, well, some of those folks conveniently disappeared or had 'accidents'. Now, with Tesla on the scene, big oil and their puppets in Detroit are about to have their comeuppance-- and rightly so! Wait for Toyota to one-up Tesla and you will have seen the first nail in the coffin for the likes of Exxon and Shell.

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 4:12 PM, todamo13 wrote:

    I think of Tesla as more like BMW- they make a stylish, innovative, beautiful "luxury" machine that is lower-volume and higher-priced than GM, Ford, etc. Just as BMW has done very well, so can Tesla. And like BMW, they can release cheaper, yet still high-quality, models to broaden their customer base.

    It's interesting to think about this: If super-mega-profitable Big Oil companies put some of their billions in profits to switching to solar and renewables, we'd be switched to clean energy in no time.

    If utility companies, with all their customers and capital, decided to switch completely to solar and renewables we could switch to clean energy in no time.

    If huge auto companies decided to switch to electric vehicles we'd have practical electric cars and a full charging infrastructure in no time.

    The fact that those massive old-technology corporations won't do this until absolutely forced (and in fact do everything they can through lobbyists and political influence to kill alternatives) means small companies like SolarCity, SunPower, Tesla, etc can emerge to start to change the world for the better. Not a minute too soon, either!

  • Report this Comment On June 09, 2013, at 8:23 PM, taug99 wrote:

    Electric cars are not taking off ???

    Is this a big surprise ???

    LIMITED RANGE, WHERE TO RECHARGE ON THE HIGHWAY, HOW MANY YEARS WILL THE BATTERY LAST, CAN IT BE REBUILT OR DO YOU HAVE TO BUY A NEW ONE, HOW MUCH IS A NEW ONE, IS THERE A DISPOSAL FEE,

    There are just TOO MANY questions for electric cars.

    RIGHT NOW ELECTRIC CARS ARE FOR WOMEN WITH TOO MUCH MONEY, AND NO COMMON SENSE, THAT DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT YEAR.

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2013, at 9:42 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    Folks, there's a big distinction to be made here. Nobody (including your humble Fool) is arguing that there's weak demand for *hybrids* as such. The Prius is still selling quite well (though down somewhat from last year, last I looked) Ford's new hybrids are posting nice numbers, etc. Those aren't the cars I'm talking about here.

    This is more about what the industry calls "plug-ins", pure battery-electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

    Thanks for watching.

    John Rosevear

  • Report this Comment On June 10, 2013, at 10:02 AM, jamesdan567 wrote:

    The opportunity Tesla presents is to build a sustainable, zero emissions transport system to replace the aging dinosaur that was born, folks, in 1886, when Benz patented the first ICE car in Germany. The decision is whether you want to support this opportunity OR remain part of the problem. When you think about what course you wish to take, consider what you want to leave behind to your children, or nephews or nieces or younger friends when you go. I support the EV future, unlike the author. For those who support the dirty air ICE model, i say drop dead.

  • Report this Comment On June 11, 2013, at 8:10 AM, TMFMarlowe wrote:

    @jamesdan567: I think you misunderstand my role. My job is analysis from an investment perspective, not advocacy. You don't actually know what I "support" or don't support. Being skeptical of a company's or a product's chances of commercial success is not a political position.

    Let's try to keep the discourse on an adult level, shall we?

    John Rosevear

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