The electric car race is heating up, and becoming an international competition that will go into high gear as early as next year. Yes, it's true that, right now, the only battery car you can buy here is the Tesla Roadster, and it costs $109,000 ($20,000 more if you want the sport version). But that will change dramatically as 2010 rolls around.
Most recently, BYD threw its batteries into the ring with the announcement that it would bring its E6 electric car (powered with its own lithium-ion-phosphate batteries) to the U.S. next year, at approximately the same time as the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt (not a battery EV but a "range extender" whose gas engine acts as a generator to keep the electric motor supplied with juice).
Priced at $40,000, the BYD E6 could find a market if people get over the novelty of buying a Chinese-made car. BYD will have its work cut out if it is going to get a Chinese-market car through U.S. crash tests. Warren Buffett's $230 million investment (giving him almost 10% of BYD) undoubtedly adds to the carmaker's confidence about entering the U.S. market. Here's some more detail on the E6, and the investment by Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway:
The Nissan is rolling out only in U.S. markets where the Renault-Nissan Alliance has existing battery charging agreements. BYD Chairman Wang Chuanfu told the Wall Street Journal that the company will also pursue a select market, initially bringing in only a few hundred cars.
There are other contenders. The space-age Aptera will be on the market by the end of this year. Aptera President Paul Wilbur told me last week that the company is on track for that launch, though the car will initially be available only in California. And Coda, backed by an elite group of ex-Goldman Sachs investors (including former Treasury Secretary "Hank" Paulson) is also planning a launch next year. The Coda is based on a Chinese sedan, and uses Chinese-made batteries (though it would like to move production to the U.S.).
The Tesla Model S, a $60,000 sports sedan with Roadster-like performance, is on its way for late 2011. Ford is launching its battery EV, Focus-based, around the same time. And Chrysler has a fleet of ENVI battery electrics in the wings.
All signs point to a dramatically different landscape for EVs next year. Some cars will be sold, some leased, and many will be strategically targeted at only a few markets. Californians will undoubtedly have the largest selection. Wherever you look, the future is electric.
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