Electric competition coming for Tesla?

Tesla Model S f

Tesla is riding high right now, as the Tesla S is a beautiful car and it’s piling up awards. The company is certainly worthy of all the praise directed its way. But, things are changing quickly in the auto business, as technological innovation is progressing rapidly. Thus, things can change quickly for Tesla as well with competition lurking.

GM and Honda made big news this week with an announcement that they’re teaming up to develop a mass-market fuel-cell system for future cars. The system, which is expected to debut in about 2020, chemically “burns” hydrogen to generate electricity without toxic emissions.

That electricity can then be used to power an electric motor: In other words, these will be electric cars, only without the batteries. GM and Honda also pledged to work on storage technologies for all that hydrogen, as well as on infrastructure — places to “get gas” for your future hydrogen-powered ride.

This doesn’t mean that the world is giving up on battery-powered electrics, of course. Batteries remain heavy and expensive, and take a while to recharge, but Tesla Motors has recently made it very clear that a great car can be built around a big heavy battery pack, despite the trade-offs.

But the GM-Honda link-up, along with Toyota’s recent confirmation that it would launch a fuel-cell car next year (a car that seems likely to be aimed directly at the Model S, by the way), is a good reminder that battery-electrics aren’t necessarily the way forward, just one of several possible ways.

That’s something that investors in any car company, including Tesla, should keep in mind.

Of course, this article is aimed at Tesla investors, and the stock issue is separate from the company and its current and future prospects. The stock may be a bit overpriced yet the company’s outlook can be fantastic.

Tesla has proven to be a leader in this space, and I think they can handle the competition. But the competition will be there.

Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid looks badass

Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid
© General Motors

GM showed off this new Caddy at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this year. It looks pretty awesome and it’s basically a luxury version of the Chevy Volt as Cadillac brings plug-in hybrid technology to the Cadillac brand.

When General Motors (GM) decided to make a plug-in hybrid several years ago, there was a lively discussion behind closed doors about whether the first model to showcase the expensive technology should be a Chevrolet or a Cadillac. The Chevy advocates won and the Volt was born. History suggests that may not have been the right choice. The Volt—the first car to mix all-electric capabilities with an auxiliary gas engine to extend its driving range after the battery’s depleted—has had disappointing sales. Republicans during the presidential campaign pilloried it as a symbol of the failings of President Obama’s auto-industry bailout.

GM has decided to take a second stab at Volt technology, and this time it’s heading upmarket, with the Cadillac ELR plug-in hybrid, introduced Jan. 15.

That may be going a bit too far, as there’s nothing to indicate that a Cadillac would have fared any better as GM’s first plug-in option. The technology is just getting started, and the Volt’s price point was always an issue.

Chevy to produce an all-electric version of the Spark

Chevy has announced it will produce an all-electric version of the Chevy Spark mini car, the Spark EV. This vehicle complements Chevy’s growing range of EVs, including the Volt and the 2013 Malibu ECO with eAssist technology. It will be sold in limited quantities in select U.S. and global markets starting in 2013. See here for more information.

Also, in an effort to meet the growing demand for safe, connected personal transportation, GM has decided to work on the next-generation EN-V concept vehicle and brand it with the Chevy badge. This two-seat, electric urban mobility concept is a zero-emissions vehicle powered by lithium-ion batteries. The Chevy EN-V concept will be updated with new features that customers need such as climate control, personal storage space and all-weather and road condition operation.

To learn more about the Chevy EN-V, check out the release here.

Could Electric Cars Contribute to the Next Energy Crisis?

From Money CNN:

(gigaom.com) — Here’s the bad news about electric vehicles: They’re going to be hell on the grid. The Utilities Telecom Council trade group reports that electric vehicles will require a 16-fold increase in power usage in the next decade, putting pressure on utilities to find out how to handle car charging as quickly as possible.

UTC’s report, prepared by The Shpigler Group, takes a rather optimistic view of how popular plug-in cars are going to be. It predicts electricity demand from plug-ins will grow from 146,000 megawatt-hours in 2010 to 2.6 million kWh by 2020.

That’s a fraction of overall grid demand, but it’s largely the way people will plug in their EVs that could make it particularly hard for utilities to deal with the trend. Each plug-in car adds roughly the equivalent of a new house to the local grid’s electricity demand, which is something most neighborhood distribution feeders and substations weren’t built to supply.

Read the full article.

Will this so called “range anxiety problem” around electric vehicles stifle the awesome potential at hand?

Will this so called “range anxiety problem” around electric vehicles stifle the awesome potential at hand? Time will only tell but this article brings up some very good points on why the electric vehicle buzz might not turn into serious numbers in sales. Hey, Who wants to worry about running out of juice as that will really take the charge out of sales while hybrids can kick into traditional gas power and keep cruising for hundreds of miles!

From the Wall Street Journal:

Hong Kong had its worst-ever year in terms of roadside pollution in 2010, according to government data. It also hosts the world’s highest traffic density, says the Clear the Air, a local antipollution organization. But despite rising concern over roadside pollution levels and a government campaign to get consumers and companies to adopt zero-emissions vehicles, electric cars aren’t yet creating much spark.

Mitsubishi, EuAuto and Tesla each offer an electric car to Hong Kong consumers to replace gasoline-powered ones, but so far, there have been few takers. As of Dec. 31, just 70 electric cars were registered in Hong Kong. Twenty-two of those are part of the government fleet and include electric golf cart-like vehicles. The other about 600,000 automobiles emit hazardous pollutants.

The government’s Environmental Protection Department says transport pollution accounts for 82% of Hong Kong’s carbon monoxide emissions. Furthermore, the University of Hong Kong released a Jan. 19 study linking low visibility due to air pollution to risk of mortality.

Read the full article.

Nissan collects $650,000 from buyers who just want to be first

Looks like demand is there for the new Nissan Leaf but how many can they build? With this type of excitement and demand around vehicles like the Leaf and the upcoming Chevy Volt electric cars might finally be for real in the marketplace. Both companies need to answer the call and get these machines rolling off the assembly lines early and often.

From AutoNews.com:

In three days, U.S. consumers gave $656,865 to Nissan for the chance to buy a Leaf electric sedan when it arrives in December.

Ain’t capitalism grand.

Starting on Tuesday, April 20, consumers could pony up $99 for what was called a refundable reservation fee. By Friday morning, 6,635 would-be buyers had charged the fee to their credit cards.

For their money, they got…well, nothing, really.

This is not a deposit on the car. It doesn’t count against the $32,780 sticker price.

Read the full article here.

Photo from fOTOGLIF

Tesla sticking with laptop battery cells


Tesla will not make any immediate changes to the battery for it’s new sedan.

Large format battery cells will slowly gain a foothold on the automotive EV market in the coming years. Companies such as LG Chem, A123 Systems, and EnerDel have been hard at work developing the large format automotive specific batteries, but Tesla still insists that the laptop format, as used in their Roadster, is the best thing going right now.

According to Tesla, the laptop battery offers proven performance at an affordable price. With mass production of this type of battery ongoing for several decades now, the technology has advanced beyond that of current large format batteries. As Tesla has indicated, the mass economies that surround laptop batteries have increased competition, driven technological advances, and reduced prices making them perfectly suitable for cars.

Tesla recently received a loan from the federal government, and it will be interesting to see how he battery issue plays out over time.

Tesla Motors, an electric-car company in California that sells a high-end roadster, will use some of $465 million in loans now to build a plant in Southern California to make its new Model S sedan. The rest will be used later for a plant in Northern California to make battery packs and electric drivetrains to be used in other carmakers’ vehicles.

Lithium-ion car batteries


With the potential emergence of plug-in hybrids and electric cars, many expect them to be powered by lithium-ion cells, and it will be interesting to see if American producers can compete with Asian companies.

Should Uncle Sam provide billions in loans and grants to a promising but unproven business? Or should the government wait for the market to sort things out before it backs a U.S. company? The risk is that by then another major industry could go the way of memory chips, digital displays, the first solar panels, and the original lithium-ion batteries used in notebook PCs and cell phones. American scientists, funded by federal dollars, were at the forefront of each of those. Yet the industries—and the high-paying manufacturing jobs that go with them—quickly ended up in Asia. U.S. labor costs and taxes drove many operations abroad, but often industries fled simply because Asian governments, banks, and companies were more willing than Americans to risk big capital investments.

This time federal help could be on the way. Battery makers are expected to get some of the $25 billion set aside last year under Washington’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program to speed the commercialization of green cars. EnerDel, a subsidiary of Ener1, has applied for a loan to build a plant capable of making 600,000 batteries a year. Rival A123 of Watertown, Mass., wants $1.8 billion to build a car-battery factory in Michigan. Under the $790 billion stimulus package under debate in Congress, U.S. lithium-ion makers also could compete for $2 billion in grants to fund research and development and manufacturing.

The Obama administration is determined to assist the development of next-generation cars in the United States, and Obama has said he wants to see them built here. The new stimulus package and the programs referred to above will be just the beginning. We can expect significant government support as many view plug-in vehicles and electric cars as critical to our future economic security. It lessens our dependence on foreign oil and can help to save domestic manufacturing.

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