Detroit No-shows Put Spotlight on Electric Car Startups

Volatile fuel prices, tighter emissions rules and stronger batteries are buoying interest in cars that use little or no gasoline.

Published: 20-Jan-2009

Fisker Automotive Inc. and Tesla Motors Inc., California startup makers of luxury electric cars, can thank Nissan Motor Co. and Honda Motor Co. for crowds they are drawing at Detroit’s auto show.

Nissan skipped the industry forum and Honda canceled a briefing on models as U.S. auto sales reached a 16-year low. The spotlight is falling to Fisker, which hasn’t shipped its plug-in hybrid, and Tesla, the maker of only 147 battery-only Roadsters. Now the little-known makers need to lure drivers.

“Barriers to entering the industry have fallen,” said John Casesa, a partner at consulting firm Casesa Shapiro Group. The business plans of Fisker and Tesla “could work, but at these very low volumes it’s extremely challenging to earn an adequate return on investment,” he said.

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