Every once in a while, you go to an auto show, and the future of the industry crystallizes before your eyes. It was that way in the early 90's when the Detroit Auto Show became the place where auto makers rolled out SUV after SUV and we saw how the truck-based vehicle would lead the way to massive profits in the late 90's. Now there is another wave of vehicles that will drive the auto industry over the next 10-15 years. They are the electric, plug-in hybrids, and extended range electric cars.
What started with a few niche models from company's like Tesla has grown into a steady stream of vehicles planned by almost all major auto makers. GM has the Chevy Volt. Nissan has the Leaf. Here in Frankfurt, Toyota unveiled it's plug-in Prius. And the list goes on and on. Around the world, auto CEOs know electric is the way of the future.
Yesterday here in Frankfurt, Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne scoffed at a reporter who suggested Fiat/Chrysler does not have an electric vehicle plan. Need further proof the industry is getting plugged in? Toyota is planning to use its popular Prius brand as the banner under which all of the company's electric vehicles will fly.
The question is no longer when we start to see electric cars, but rather who will take the lead. GM has long hoped the Chevy Volt would become to electric cars what the Toyota Prius is to hybrids. Whether or not that happens will in large part come down to its price and the price of gas. If GM sells the Volt for close to $40,000 and it comes out when gas is at $2.50 a gallon or less, I doubt the car will catch on.
Nissan Renault CEO Carlos Ghosn is betting on affordable electric cars. Meanwhile, others are taking the approach of building plug-in hybrids as a middle step on the road to an all electric future.
The bottom line is this. It is clear the auto industry has fully embraced a future with electric cars. Yes, internal combustion vehicles will dominate sales for many years to come. But down the road, more and more of us will be driving cars that either entirely or partially powered by electrically charged batteries.
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