Are We Already in the Golden Era of Electric Vehicles?


Back in the heyday of the automobile, there were dozens and dozens of car manufacturers. In addition to Ford , General Motors , and Chrysler, we had top nameplates like Studebaker, Hudson, Nash, and more, with all but the Big Three eventually succumbing to competitive issues and fading from the marketplace.

Today, in the electric vehicle market, we're seeing a similar proliferation of cars, though they're generally being built only by the biggest carmakers, domestic or foreign. And though there are a few standout, independent manufacturers like Tesla , it seems clear that, even among the major carmakers, we're going to see a weaning of the field.

Fisker, for example, is already veering into the ditch of bankruptcy, and while we likely won't see any of the majors following suit, it seems evident that not everyone is suited for the EV marketplace.

Sales may be much improved over last year, but they've failed to spark any real buying, and seem like they'll be nothing but a small, niche product. Even with manufacturers offering ridiculously low lease plans, incentive programs, and discounts, barely 25,000 EVs have been sold in 2013 through the end of April, and most of those have been hybrids. We'll start seeing the May numbers soon, but don't expect any great leap forward in all-electric sales.

There's just too much competition for the low level of demand. The Tesla Model S and Nissan Leaf are the only cars able to sell more than 1,000 vehicles in any given month. Honda is literally selling only a few dozen, and Ford and Toyota are only selling hundreds. Others, like Mitsubishi, haven't established any reliable pattern, yet there are still more models coming on the market.

The best-selling models aren't even EVs, but hybrids like the Volt and Prius. GM will be bring the Spark onto the market in June, and Chrysler's Fiat 500e will follow in July, as carmakers feel they have to have an EV as part of their production run. It's just unrealistic considering the costs involved and the lack of demand.

My prediction is that we're going to eventually see just a handful of EVs left by the end of the decade, if not sooner, likely led byTesla, which seems to be the only one to have found its groove.

Between a plethora of models to choose from, low demand, limited range, and new, emerging technologies to compete against it -- hydrogen-powered cars, anyone? natural gas? -- the grand experiment in electricity will see most of these models go the way of the Maxwell and Pierce-Arrow. It just won't be as glorious of a bygone era as the one that spawned the horseless carriage.

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Fool contributor Rich Duprey has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Ford, General Motors, and Tesla Motors . The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford 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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