The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas once again featured the presence of automakers, as they pushed electronic apps for their cars while one automaker unveiled its first gas-free, fully electric vehicle. It remains to be seen, however, what impact Ford Motor's (NYSE:F) new fully-electric Focus will have on the industry.
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New EV Unveiled
Ford CEO Alan Mullaly announced the new Focus Electric for 2011. The car will feature a maximum speed of 84 miles per hour and is made of sustainable materials including recycled blue jeans. The Focus features a 23 kilowatt hour lithium ion battery, which is capable of being powered at a home charging station in slightly over three hours.
Ford will also be offering electric vehicle charging stations for $1,499, compared to the cost of competitors' charging stations, which average more than $2,000 for installation. Ford has plans to utilize electronics retailer Best Buy (NYSE:BBY) to make these stations available for customers. Ford is also working with both municipalities and utilities to eventually make these stations commonly available throughout the U.S.
Firms are climbing aboard the electric vehicle (EV) platform to address the projected need for more charging systems and outlets. Industrial giants like Siemens AG (NYSE:SI) are working to provide these, while smaller firms such as EvaTran plan to bring out a home-based charging system. It will feature a new induction system which differs from the standard ones by allowing the consumer to plug in, for example, their General Motors' (NYSE:GM) Chevy Volt, to recharge it.
Immediate Future of EVs
It's difficult to predict such a light market as electric vehicles, with its potentially rapidly changing technologies and uncertain consumer demand. California utility PG & E (NYSE:PCG) estimates 300,000 EVs by 2020 in its region. Zpryme pegs EV sales at over 40,000 for 2011, and projects annual sales of slightly over 200,000 total by 2016. Zpryme also estimates the charging industry will eventually be a $1 billion plus market. These numbers of EVs and any revenues are, of course, fractional when compared to the petroleum-based auto industry of today, so we are in the earliest stages of the electronic vehicle industry at best.
A Practical Look
It's great to get excited about the new tech of electric vehicles as well as the potential of alternative energy fueling cars. James Brumley wrote an excellent analysis of the considerable difficulties the fledgling electric vehicle industry still faces. In his Investopedia article of December 23, 2010, "Electric Vehicle's Dirty Little Secret," Brumley points out a number significant problems. The vehicles are neither cost appealing nor do they provide the kind of utility to truly spark a user revolution. The mileage range per electric charge has been very limited, and charging takes too many hours. These limitations will be slow to change. The Focus Electric, however, is a step toward changing these.
Whether one day we will all be driving electric cars or something else - perhaps a Tesla-like visionary will create some unforeseen breakthrough in a different direction - the sobering news on electric vehicles as a consumer product, business and an investment renders them a potentially important development, though they're still in their infancy. In the next decades, the reasonable hope would be that they take their place alongside our fossil-fuel vehicles. Meanwhile, conventional autos along with gas and oil will remain dominant. (If you're not taking advantage of these deductions, you could be missing out on tax savings. See Tax Credits You Shouldn't Miss.)
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