I'm not an auto show kind of guy -- once a decade is usually fine by me -- but Seeking Alpha made arrangements for me to visit the 81st Geneva International Motorshow as a member of the presse and it seemed like a good opportunity to get a first hand look at the faces the automakers were presenting to the public at one of the "Top 5" auto shows in the world. It was quite the eye-opener.
While the major automakers all had their obligatory electric concept cars buried somewhere near the back, the front and center space with bright lights and pretty women was reserved for the latest in fuel efficiency. Toyota (NYSE:TM), Lexus and Honda (NYSE:HMC) devoted the bulk of their floor space to class leading HEV offerings. PSA Peugeot Citroën (OTCPK:PEUGF), Volkswagen (OTCPK:VLKAF), Mercedes Benz, BMW (OTCPK:BAMXY) and Ford (NYSE:F), on the other hand, were all about branded fuel-efficiency packages built on a common technological core of direct fuel injection, dual-clutch transmissions and stop-start idle elimination. The latest diesel engines were out in force, as were a variety of dual-fuel cars that could change from gasoline to compressed natural gas at the flip of a switch.
Many readers missed my last article, "Just One Sector: Fuel Efficiency Pure Plays," because of an e-mail glitch, but there's no question that the exhibitors in Geneva all got the memo. The core theme running through most automakers' displays was grams of CO2 per kilometer and liters of fuel consumption per 100 kilometers. In the U.S., it would have been all mpg. Fuel efficiency isn't just another feature; it's the star of everybody's show. For investors, fuel efficiency is as close as you'll ever get to shooting fish in a barrel.
According to the show's catalog, the world's automakers built 60.1 million cars last year, bringing the global automotive fleet to an astounding 731,250,932 vehicles. Against that backdrop, even Deutsche Bank's (NYSE:DB) unbridled optimism that unsubsidized electric vehicle payback periods will fall from 15.5 years to 3.9 years over the next decade is cold bloody comfort. We are between a rock and a hard place today, and the only technologies that will make a dime's worth of difference over the next decade are the simple baby steps that the world's automakers are implementing and the mainstream media is ignoring.
Last week I created a short list of five energy storage manufacturers that should profit handsomely from the tectonic shift to fuel efficiency that was evident in Geneva. That list includes Johnson Controls (NYSE:JCI), Exide Technologies (XIDE), Enersys (NYSE:ENS), Maxwell Technologies (NASDAQ:MXWL) and Axion Power International (NASDAQ:AXPW). I also created a hypothetical $25,000 portfolio that invested $5,000 in each of these companies. As of today, my fuel-efficiency portfolio is down by $99, but I'll refer to it regularly in coming months and predict without reservation that it will crush the major markets over the next year.
As I said last week, "In this world nothing is certain but death, taxes and rising oil prices." There's no escaping the misery, but astute investors who take the time to understand the fundamental trends can profit as the misery unfolds.
Additional disclosure: Author is a former director of Axion Power International (AXPW) and holds a substantial long position in its common stock.