Electric cars keep humming along, despite automaker turmoil

Now might seems like an odd time for optimism from makers of electric cars. After all, falling sales of gasoline-powered autos are crippling established giants like General Motors (GM) and Chrysler. And the price of crude oil, already down nearly $100 from its peak last summer, is falling again over concerns that a lengthy recession could depress demand for some time.

Still, some companies specializing in electric-powered cars say they're charging ahead. Take Detroit Electric. The company, a joint venture between California-based ZAP (ZAAP) and China Youngman Automotive Group, says it will start selling electric cars in the United States next year for $23,000 and up.

Detroit Electric will offer two models. The cheaper of the two will get about 110 miles before needing to be recharged. The more expensive version, priced between $28,000 and $33,000, will get about 200 miles per charge.

The cars will be built by Malaysian automaker Proton Holdings. A familiar name to green-car aficionados, Proton is responsible for the sleek Lotus Elise sports car, the basis for the much buzzed-about electric Tesla Roadster. The Roadster is quite the hotrod, reportedly capable of going from zero to 60 m.p.h. in under four seconds.

With a base price of $109,000 and a passel of celebrity owners including Hollywood stars Matt Damon and George Clooney, the Roadster is synonymous with enviro-luxury. But Tesla is also planning a push into less pricey cars. Its Model S will sell for $50,000 and hit the streets in 2011.

In the meantime, Tesla CEO and PayPal founder Elon Musk reportedly told Car & Driver that General Electric (GE) was the second-biggest investor in the company's recent round of financing. (Musk said he was the biggest.) If true, that would represent a huge vote of confidence not just in Tesla, but electric cars in their own right.

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