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New Car Technologies: The Consumers' Dilemma

|Includes: General Motors Company (GM), NSANY, TM

The transportation market is in the process of getting fragmented beyond all recognition. There are at least a half dozen different technologies to power cars with electricity under construction.  Better Place is building stations in San Francisco, Hawaii, Israel, and Denmark to swap out 1,000 pound batteries in a car wash type set up. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is building fleet charging stations in Portland and Phoenix. The Chevy Volt is going to count on an overnight charge from a standard wall outlet. There are choices for 110 volt versus 220 volt, slow versus quick charges, and solar options. Massive government subsidies are upending commercial considerations. It is reminiscent of the early 1900’s, when steam, electric, diesel, biomass, and gasoline power options competed on a level playing field for consumers’ attention. In the end, gasoline won out because it was the cheapest and delivered the most energy per unit, but it took 20 years to sort out. I wonder how the hapless car buyers without the PhD’s in engineering are going to deal with all of this? This is a much bigger call than choosing VHS over Betamax, because owning a dead end technology could cost you $50,000. I bet a used Stanley Steamer didn’t fetch much in 1925 when gas stations made it to every street corner. Are we all going to have to haul around a trunk load of power adapters like we already do for cell phones, Blackberries, and laptops? Are we even going to need cars, or will they end up as toys of the idle rich and hedge fund managers?