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Sales Accelerate for Electric Cars

Stocks in this article: GM NSANY TM TSLA

As a result, Volt production, which had been temporarily halted to catch up with demand, will now resume one week earlier than planned -- April 16 instead of 23.

Nissan's Infiniti

At the New York City auto show, Nissan unveiled the Infiniti sedan version of the Nissan LEAF. It's a larger sedan with a larger electric motor, but the same 24 kWh battery as in the LEAF. One would therefore assume that the LEAF's relatively mediocre 73-mile range shouldn't change much.

Here is Nissan's problem with the all-electric Infiniti sedan: Its range looks to be very significantly lower than Tesla's entry-level Model S, which goes into production by the end of 2012. Tesla has talked about a 160-mile range for the 40 kWh battery version of the Model S.

The Tesla Model S starts at $57,400 before tax adjustments. That's about $20,000 more than the Nissan LEAF. How much cheaper must the Infiniti sedan be, compared to the Tesla Model S, in order to fetch any material number of takers? I think it would have to be at least $10,000, probably more like $15,000, cheaper. Seventy-three miles just isn't enough.

I think Nissan's mistake here is building the Infiniti with a 24 kWh battery going up against Tesla's 40 kWh base car. Get real. Build the right spec and let the price fall where it may. Didn't Steve Jobs teach these people anything?

Also at the New York auto show, Fisker unveiled the $50,000-something Atlantic, and hopes it will produce it by early 2014. It's obviously an extremely beautiful car with a drivetrain that can compete in many aspects with the Chevrolet Volt, but the company isn't fully funded and two years is a long time away. An early 2014 Fisker Atlantic makes you think the following: The Chevrolet Volt looks mighty good for having entered production in November 2010!

What's the bottom line here? The electric car market will see a significant boost in prestige this July, when the Tesla Model S starts delivering to customers. In the meantime, Ford, Toyota, Nissan and BMW will help bring more cars mainstream in various stages in 2012 and 2013. Volkswagen has announced models as well, although not for the next six months.

There is no doubt that plug-in electric cars is a rapidly growing niche, although it starts from a small 17,000-something U.S. base in 2011 that should grow dramatically in 2012 and more so in 2013.

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