Behind the Wheel of a Cutting-Edge Electric Car

Motley Fool analyst Rex Moore is just back from a visit to the Tesla Motors (NAS: TSLA) showroom in Washington, D.C., where he was able to test drive the exciting new Model S sedan.

On some levels the Model S competes with the Nissan LEAF, Ford (NYS: F) Focus Electric, Honda Fit Electric, and of course hybrids like the Toyota (NYS: TM) Prius and General Motors' (NYS: GM) Chevy Volt. But those vehicles address the "lower end" of the electric and hybrid market. Tesla's roomy sedan, on the other hand, does zero to 60 in 4.4 seconds, is packed with luxury features, and the fit and finish is outstanding. It is, therefore, really competing with luxury vehicles from BMW, Mercedes, and Audi -- as its $50,000-$90,000 price tag would suggest.

Tesla's stock price recently took a hit when management lowered its revenue forecast because of a slower-than-expected ramp-up for the Model S. Bears also point to other issues, such as how drivers will negotiate long road trips if their cars only have a range of 100-300 miles, depending on the model.

But because we're in the extreme early phases of the electric car revolution, Rex says that's just short-term noise for long-term investors. As far as any early production problems for the Model S, founder and CEO Elon Musk says he has intentionally slowed down production until a number of minor issues are resolved, such as the fit of certain interior items. After that, Musk says production will ramp up and hit at least 20,000 units in 2013, with a gross margin exceeding 25%. In addressing the range issues, Tesla is taking a cue from Clean Energy Fuels (NAS: CLNE) , which is rolling out a nationwide network of refueling stations for natural-gas-powered vehicles. Tesla has already opened up a network of recharging stations between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and you can expect more stations across the country.

Rex says Tesla -- designed from the ground up as a different kind of automaker -- will have greater success in the electric vehicle space than Ford, General Motors, and the other big names that have long-established and deeply entrenched ways of producing vehicles. This is especially the case with more expensive, higher-margin cars.

With projections of cash-flow breakeven by the end of the year, Rex says this small, $3 billion company seems very well positioned for investors with a long time horizon -- and he's backing his opinion with a thumbs-up CAPScall.

In part four of this series, ride along with Rex and Tesla's Will Nicholas as they take the Model S out on the streets of the Washington, D.C. metro area.

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Rex Moore has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Clean Energy Fuels, Ford, and Tesla Motors. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Clean Energy Fuels, Ford, General Motors Company, and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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