Friday, May 13, 2011

Electric car bulletin: Tesla posts losses, Ford & Fisker prepare EV debut

Electric cars have been on the road a measly few months and they're already dominating automotive news.

Tesla posted first-quarter losses nearly double those of a year earlier. Ford plans to begin production of its electric Focus late this year. And Fisker stands to be the second major independent automaker to launch commercial production and sales of an electric car.

Expect more to come. The sector once was only a partially forgotten memory relived by people who had seen the 2006 documentary "Who Killed the Electric Car?"

But now it promises to get increasingly active as the year rolls on and buyers appear. Utilities are talking about recharging centers and retailers are planning to stock home-charging devices as more and more of the vehicles enter the commuting landscape.

Detroit automaker Ford plans to join Nissan, Chevy and sports car builder Tesla with commercial-scale production of electric vehicles in the United States. But it looks to be beaten to the punch by Fisker Automotive, which intends to deliver its long-delayed 403-horsepower Karma to showrooms in June or July, according to a story by Katie Fehrenbacher at

Ford advertises the EV Focus as guilt-free.

The car offers a 6.6 kilowatt on-board charger that enables it to be recharged in half the time it takes for the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt, says Nick Chambers of Of course, with the Volt's smaller battery, that difference works out to about the same amount of recharging time.

"The Focus Electric looks like a true competitor and will likely make Leaf fence sitters think twice — and may even cause some current Leaf orders to give up their place in line," Chambers writes.

Like the Leaf, the Focus Electric has a 100-mile range. Ford says the car will come with "electric-vehicle-specific features," specifically a custom Ford MyTouch instrument cluster, which allows the driver to keep tabs on the battery charge status, the distance to the next charging point and expected "range surplus" as well as mess with other information. The car also has a Microsoft feature that tells the owner when to get the cheapest utility rates for recharging.

Fisker is flush, having raised more than $1 billion in equity, loans and grants, says Fehrenbacher, citing U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission filings. The latest is $100 million from Chicago-based Advanced Equities Inc. That should help the automaker ride out the bumpy road Tesla's taken as the pioneer in the market. The Karma sedan is expected to sell for a princely $96,000 but go 0 to 60 in 5.9 seconds.

Tesla posted losses in the quarter that ended March 31, 2011 of $48.9 million, up 66 percent from the same period a year earlier. The Palo Alto automaker's stock closed at $27.55 per share, down 12 cents, on May 13. (A Friday by the way.)

In its SEC 10-Q form, the company said it remains dependent on revenue generated from the sale of its Tesla Roadster, "in the near term, and our future success will be dependent upon our ability to design and achieve market acceptance of new vehicle models, and specifically the Model S."

Tesla officials said the company will stop making the Roadster in December but will continue selling the model until all units are gone. Production on the Roadster began in 2008.

Tesla's planned sedan, the Model S, is expected to begin production sometime in the middle of 2012. However, officials say it "requires significant investment prior to commercial introduction, and may never be successfully developed or commercially successful."

The company appeared to be issuing a reality check in its filing, explaining that there can be no assurances that the Model S, which will have a $50,000 price tag, will prove to be a viable car as it is based on unproven components, will be built in a Fremont plant that may cost to much to equip and may have different styling and design than that of the concept vehicle and turn off consumers.

All of it just goes to show that any venture is a risk. Tesla's taking a big one, and its executives made note of that in very frank language. Still, the company had received about 4,300 reservations for the Model S as of March 31, 2011.

And gas prices likely won't go down too much.

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