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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.
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.
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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