General Motors unit Chevrolet will be launching their brand new electric car, the Volt, in November of this year. To sweeten the deal, GM has set up a program with the U.S. Department of Energy that will give the first 4,400 Volt buyers a 240-volt charging station. This could help get the fledgling electric car market off the ground and not just help GM but also automakers like Honda (HMC), Toyota (TM) and Ford (F) that are planning to bring electric vehicles (or EVs) to the market.
GM announced the incentive program yesterday. Most hybrid owners charge their vehicles using the standard 120-volt electrical outlets found in almost every American home, meaning that it takes approximately eight hours for the battery to reach a full charge for a work commute. The 240-volt chargers will shorten the charge time by half. The Volt will reportedly travel a distance of forty miles on a full charge, saving consumers sizable sums in fuel costs. The charger program will be funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The commercial viability of hybrid cars is still up in the air. YTD sales of small hybrid vehicles in the United States were 108,817 units at the end of May, an 8% increase over the same period in 2009 but still only accounting for a fraction of overall car sales. Chevrolet and GM are undoubtedly interested in the market success Toyota (TM) has enjoyed with their successful line of hybrids, especially the Prius which is the market leader by a wide margin in 2010. (Toyota is currently test-marketing a plug in model of the Prius in the United Kingdom this June, with a proposed full roll out later this year.) Still, Toyota has only sold just under 15,000 units in the U.S. in 2010. Though the Toyota recall earlier this year must have held back sales, its clear that the hybrid market is still not ready for primetime.
Nonetheless, the Volt, and competitor Nissan’s upcoming LEAF, will be entering a busy market. The Ford (F) Fusion is the second most popular hybrid model, and the number two auto manufacturer is betting on hybrid growth. Ford invested $450 million to build a hybrid assembly plant in Michigan earlier this year and they are going to launch a hybrid model of the Ford Focus in 2011. The Honda (HMC) Insight is third, followed by Toyota’s Camry line, and Toyota division Lexus HS250h and RX450H. Other models have sold less than 1000 units in 2010, with most selling less than 500.
Tesla Motors (soon to be the ticker TSLA), which will hold its 2010 IPO later this month with the offering of 11.1 million shares between $14 and $16 a piece, is betting big on the future of electric cars. The Silicon Valley-based manufacturer received a $465 million loan from the Department of Energy to fund their Model S sedan line set to launch in 2012. Toyota is hoping to maintain their grip on the market by investing $50 million in Tesla as soon as they go public on June 29.
As of this writing, Anthony Agnello did not own a position in any of the stocks named here.