Editor's pick: Originally published Jan. 4.

In the U.S., Tesla(TSLA) - Get Reportsits atop the electric car market. Like its namesake, Nicolai Tesla, the company is a master innovator that has moved the center of automotive innovation from Detroit to Silicon Valley. Its cars are not just some of the best products out there, they are also some of the most attractive.

Tesla is far from the only electric car opportunity out there, however. In fact, electric cars are nothing new. The first electric car emerged in the 19th century before the combustion engine ousted it in favor of efficiency and high speeds.

Electric vehicles are poised to explode over the next few years. Even old-guard manufacturers are preparing for the transition back from the combustion engine to a cleaner, efficient electric engine. Following are five electric car companies you need to keep an eye on (and in some cases, invest in). Although Tesla is now a household word, you may not have heard of some of the others.

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1. Tesla

Tesla is the go-to investment opportunity in electric cars. Investors drove the share prices up from $17 in 2010 to $200 a share in 2015. The stock is currently trading near $230. The share price is based on long-term expectations for this company to grow substantially and to begin delivering stable profits. Investors who get in now could benefit greatly going forward -- if Tesla can manage to ramp up production and sales as hoped.

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2. Toyota (TM) - Get Report

Many of the major car brands are bumbling towards creating a viable electric car. However, Toyota has expressed true interest in progressive vehicles for years. It pioneered the hybrid with its Prius and it now intends to have a zero-emissions vehicle in 2016.

Toyota is serious about fuel cells and its history in the field provides it plenty of brand power. If Toyota can price the 2016 Mirai correctly, it could have a big success on its hands. Getting in before the button is a good idea for investors interested in strong brand power and electric cars.

3. Rimac

Rimac is in a different category from many of the other electric cars that are currently available on the market. Its flagship car, the Concept One, is beautiful and designed to be a luxury supercar that goes from 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds.

Rimac is based in Croatia. It only planned on making 88 vehicles this year, but it does license its drivetrains and builds vehicles for other companies. Although it is not at Tesla's level yet, those interested in electric cars should keep this private company on their radar.

4. Faraday Future

Faraday Future is still considered to be reclusive in the industry. However, what it lacks in media attention, it makes up in know-how.

Faraday's team consists of several former Tesla executives. What makes Faraday so exciting is its plans to build a $1 billion dollar factory to design intelligent vehicles.

Faraday has not disclosed its owners or investors, but the Los Angeles Times reported that the company has ties to Chinese multibillionaire Jia Yueting.

Faraday is a private company right now but like Rimac it is one to watch in 2016.

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5. Kandi Technologies (KNDI) - Get Report

Kandi Technologies is a Chinese electric car manufacturer. China is a huge market for electric cars, and the sales have increased 290% in 2015 alone. The Chinese government is also investing heavily in electric cars by installing 12,000 charging stations and 4.5 million charging points over the next four years.

Kandi has also forged partnerships with major Chinese companies like Alibaba and ZTE. It also has a partnership with Uber that will be instrumental to its growth over the next few years in markets like Australia, Europe and the Middle East.

Although Kandi has delivered real results this year with its comeback after trading near $5, it is still a good time to invest in the company. Kandi's growth is projected to continue to provide real rewards for investors who buy in now.

This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.