I Love Electric Cars, But Are Tesla and Fisker Going After the Right Market?


As you can imagine, VC-backed Tesla Motors and Fisker Automotive have been getting quite a lot of press lately.

Tesla this week has unveiled its Model S, a 4-door sedan that, minus a $7,500 federal tax rebate, will cost about $50,000. The company, which counts Draper Fisher Jurvetson and VantangePoint Venture Partners as its investors, believes the Model S will become the world’s first mass-produced, highway-capable EV when it rolls off the assembly line in late 2011.

Fisker Automotive is garnering press because it announced plans to open 40 showrooms nationwide by the end of June to sell its $80,000 plug-in hybrid. The company, backed by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is the product of a joint venture formed out of Quantum Fuel Systems Technologies Worldwide (Nasdaq: QTWW), an Irvine, Calif.-based energy systems company.

I love electric cars as much as the next vegetarian-journalist, but what we need is an electric car that will serve the needs of the everyman.As my colleague Alexander Haislip says, should investors really go after and invest in an electric car company that only 2% of the population can afford and even fewer want. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger is reportedly looking to return his Tesla car.

Instead of going after consumers, I like the approach of Carbon Motors Corp. and Fisher Coachworks, which are pursuing large fleets.

Carbon Motors, which has raised a quarter-of-a-million dollars from Atlanta-based Advanced Technology Development Center, according to Thomson Reuters, is aiming to make a more fuel-efficient police car.

Alex reported on Fisher in January, when it raised $3.2 million from undisclosed investors to develop hybrid buses. Innovation in bus manufacturing will likely have a considerable effect on carbon emissions, as there are 28 cities in the U.S. that run 400 or more busses during peak transit hours during the first nine months of 2008, according to the American Public Transportation Association. That’s up more than 3.2% from the same period during 2007.

You do the math.