Honda EV shows why upstarts will struggle

After I got behind the wheel of the Honda Fit EV, I could easily see why Norwegian electric vehicle upstart Think Global had to be rescued from bankruptcy earlier this year.

The big boys just have too much r&d firepower.

The Fit's speed and agility make you forget you're driving a battery-powered car. During a test drive last week at Honda's Twin Ring Motegi track in Japan, I didn't want to stop zipping around corners in the Jazz, and the power surge that came when pounding on the subcompact's accelerator was instantly addictive. The Think City minicar fell way short of offering that kind of excitement during a test drive in Turku, Finland, in early 2010.

Honda's plug-in hybrid Accord was even more impressive than the Fit EV. The Fit EV, which is a variant of the Jazz that's available in Europe, is planned for launch in Japan and the United States when the car goes on sale next year.

Another reason that EV upstarts have to worry about their future existence is because their deep-pocketed, well-connected rivals can close a technology gap faster than someone can say Chapter 11.

Think has been messing around with electric cars for 20 years. Honda, meanwhile, announced in July 2010 that it would launch its EV and plug-in hybrid by 2012. That means the Japanese automaker needed just two years to create an EV that is far superior to that of a rival that had worked solely on EVs for two decades.

The planned closure and liquidation of U.S. EV maker Aptera Motors provides a clear indication that investors are no longer ready to pour barrels of cash into an EV startup.

This means that Fisker and Tesla better buckle up for a bumpy ride as luxury EVs and plug-in hybrids start arriving soon from BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.

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