Monday, October 18, 2010

Electric Cars- Yes or No?

This morning's Wall Street Journal, being the immediate post-weekend edition, was characteristically light on news. So the edition's major Marketplace section focus on electric/hybrid cars was not surprising.

What was surprising is the evolving split between auto makers concerning growth for the pure electrics. Ford's management is reticent about jumping into the segment, foreseeing greater opportunity in hybrids.

Meanwhile, Nissan's Carlos Ghosn predicts fast growth for the vehicles, worrying aloud "that this market is going to grow too fast" and require additional investment in plants."

It's always exciting to see two such divergent views on the potential growth of a product/market segment.

Reading the entire article, I was struck by how heavily dependent the vehicles are on massive federal government subsidies. The most commonly stated number is $7,500/car. That's a shockingly high offset. One wonders, with the current US fiscal situation, and the prospect of an imminent change in party control of Congress, how long such a staggering per/vehicle subsidy will remain in effect.

Then there's the risks of mistakes in calculating range for an electric-only vehicle. And the need for one's travel patterns to precisely match the vehicles' recharging requirements. While hybrids may gain favor, the electric-only vehicles are seen, by most of the industry personnel interviewed in the piece, as being confined to market for "short-distance commutes."

It appears that you have GM and Nissan pushing the EVs, as electric-only vehicles are called, for short, while Ford, Toyota and various suppliers see a much less robust future for them, even ten years out.

Given GM's notoriously tin ear for consumer sentiments and preferences, it almost makes you side with Ford and Toyota, doesn't it?

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