Who's Who in Electric Cars

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It's been two-and-a-half years since I first posed the puzzler: "Will anyone kill the gasoline car?" Now we know the answer: Yes. In fact, everyone wants to kill it.

This week marked the debut of Nissan's (Nasdaq: NSANY  ) first attempt. The No. 3 Japanese automaker unveiled its first electric foray, hidden within a standard Versa compact Monday morning. So while we still don't know what the "skin" of the new car will look like once it's ready for sale, we do now know a bit about the innards.

Specifically, we know that Nissan's new electric car (tentatively tagged "EV") will be so silent in operation that a big problem may be warning clueless pedestrians that it's about to smack 'em. We know the car's "zero emissions" -- because unlike Toyota's (NYSE: TM  ) vaunted Prius sedan, Nissan's entry will be a true all-electric beast. No internal combustion engine at all. Finally, we know that the car will have a range of 99 miles on a full charge -- more than enough for most drivers' daily commutes, and twice the electric only range of Detroit's best challenger, the Chevy Volt.

What we don't know
And yet, to date we remain in the dark on perhaps the most important fact of all: How much will Nissan's EV cost? Because when you get right down to it, this will determine whether the concept takes off, or stalls out. Will EV truly be competitive with gasoline-powered vehicles, as Nissan promises? How will its price compare to those of rival electric car-makers? And for that matter ...

Who are those "rival electric car-makers"?
Now that the anti-gasoline-industry is finally taking shape, it's high time we investors dig into the field and figure out how best to profit from the change. So without further ado, let me introduce you to:

Ford Motor (NYSE: F  )
OK, this one probably doesn't need an introduction. The "last man standing" in Detroit aims to put out an electric Focus sedan in 2011. Like Nissan's EV, it's supposed to go 100 miles on a single charge. Also like the EV (unfortunately), we've no clue what it will cost.

General Motors
Even after its insolvency, it looks like GM will beat Ford to the punch. The Chevy Volt (mentioned above) is due out November of next year. It won't be a pure electric vehicle, however. Rather, the car will run initially for 40 miles on batteries alone. Should more range be necessary, a small internal combustion engine can then kick in to juice up the batteries for potentially another 600 miles.

The primary drawback? Word has it that GM's gonna be asking possibly upward of $40,000 apiece for the car.

Mitsubishi Motors
Japan's No. 4 automaker unveiled its own electric car, the i-MiEV, last month. Like Nissan's EV, the I-MiEV (really guys, are these the best names your branding departments can come up with?!) gets about 100 miles-a-charge. Unlike the EV, it sells for a price that only a mother corporation could call "competitive" -- $48,300. Although government subsidies may cover almost $15,000 of that cost in Japan.

Raise your hand if you've heard of it.

No one? OK, raise your hand if you've heard of Warren Buffett. That's better. The legendary CEO of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) is investing heavily in this Chinese upstart, and you can see why. BYD's new F3DM could be on U.S. dealer lots as early as 2011. Its 62-mile range doesn't sound like much, but while it lacks say, Mitsubishi's staying power, it has the edge on price: $22,000.

One final word or two
We're just about out of time (and space) for today's column. But before closing I want to toss out a few "extra credit" ideas for the more adventurous investors among you.

  • First, take a look at Magna Motors (NYSE: MGA  ) , which is building the innards for Ford's offering, the electric Focus. I argued in May that Magna Motors could become the biggest beneficiary of a bankrupt GM.
  • Next, consider other companies who could benefit from the electric switch. Chemical & Mining Company of Chile (NYSE: SQM  ) , for example, is a major miner of lithium, used in the next generation of rechargable car batteries. Another way to play this angle would be via PotashCorp (NYSE: POT  ) , which owns a large stake in "Soquimich" and has the added benefit of being a global play on fertilizer demand.

And with that, we truly are out of time for today. Until next time, Fool on!

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Fool contributor Rich Smith does not own shares of, nor is he short, any company named above. Berkshire Hathaway is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection and a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Nissan Motor is a Motley Fool Global Gains pick. The Fool owns shares of Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy wants a Chevy Volt for Christmas -- oh, and its two front teeth, too. And a Barbie doll. And a Dora the Explorer lunchbox.


Read/Post Comments (7) | Recommend This Article (11)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2009, at 5:11 PM, 1FootIn wrote:

    I don't really get the drastic price increases for the electric vehicles in that I would expect to see the elimination of components related to having a gasoline engine would offset some of the costs. Electric cars would require no gas engine, gas tank, catalytic converters, exhaust pipes, mufflers, oxygen sensors, etc..., do all these components cost less than the "technology" of an electric car? I'd like to know, wouldn't you?

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2009, at 7:22 PM, kurtdabear wrote:

    I'd like to know if you know how many of these electric cars are air-conditioned? Unless something drastic has occurred in the last week or so, that number would be "0." Do you want to pay $50,000+ to buzz around Phoenix, Miami, New Orleans, Houston, etc., in an under-sized, under-powered hotbox?

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2009, at 7:32 PM, 1444laurel wrote:

    What about the Tesla S sedan? With a base price of $49,999 after rebate and styling that is fantastic, I've already put down my $5000 deposit. Delivery wont be until 2012 but that's just fine with me. If you haven't seen it, go to

    And to 1footin: the cost of development is always going to be passed on to the first buyers. Since the batteries are using materials that could be in short supply now, the costs are higher.

  • Report this Comment On July 28, 2009, at 7:41 PM, 1444laurel wrote:

    Sorry, the tesla site is

    And to kurtdabear: the Tesla does 0-60 in 5.6 second and has A/C. It seats 5 adults.

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2009, at 9:43 AM, 2kirk22 wrote:

    I have to say that the companies mentioned are not the who's who of electric. Those are sad attempts really. The phoenix motorcars and tesla are far and away better than those mentioned. And for the money they pale in comparison to Tesla's S. If you are interested in this topic seriously check out those. The tesla S can go 3 times as far with magnificent styling and similar price as that Mitsubishi!

  • Report this Comment On July 29, 2009, at 12:54 PM, vipulg wrote:

    Just a correction official name for MGA is "Magna International" and not "Magna Motors".

  • Report this Comment On July 30, 2009, at 10:26 AM, dvilla99 wrote:


    I completely agree with you. I have a Tesla sedan on order too. I had to beg my wife to drop her 2006 Lexus 350 for one of these but the payoff in the end will be tremendous. I can't wait to get off of the fossil fuel and get into something that will be better for me and the environment.

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