With $226 million in hand from its strikingly successful stock offering last week, electric vehicle maker Tesla Motors can broaden its lineup.
My question: Do you really want to go there?
It baffles me that Tesla and rival Fisker Automotive are so eager to jump into mainstream vehicle segments. It seems that Tesla, with its $109,000 Roadster, and Fisker, with its $90,000-ish Karma plug-in hybrid (production begins late this year), occupy the sweet spot of the EV market.
Their high-end sporty vehicles can take advantage of the screaming acceleration that electric propulsion systems offer. Because buyers at that price range aren't enormously price-sensitive, the fledgling automakers can cover the high cost of battery packs and -- in theory, at least -- have some profit left over.
That business model could be a money maker. And don't think conventional automakers haven't noticed: The Audi e-tron EV, shown at Frankfurt last fall, looked to me like a direct response to Tesla. It's due in late 2012.
But I don't see how you transfer that strategy to a $50,000 electric vehicle, much less a car costing $25,000 or $30,000. Yet that's what Tesla and Fisker propose to do. They're both taking on abandoned auto plants and aiming for volume segments.
With the problems of limited range and battery cost, it's hard to see many individuals buying an EV as their single, all-purpose car, however intense their environmental fervor might be. That leaves EVs as either small commuter vehicles or high-end sporty cars.
Given either option, Tesla and Fisker would be wise to fashion themselves into something resembling a plugged-in Porsche.