Daily Debrief: Getting past the spin about electric cars

Tech Industry
[ music ] ^m00:00:04 >> While congress continues to hammer out conditions for a financial bailout of the nation's big auto makers, there's lots of talk about electric and the electric future - but maybe it's time to step back and do a reality check. Welcome to the CNET News Daily Debrief, I'm Charlie Cooper. With us now, from Cambridge Massachusetts, CNET News' Martin LaMonica. Martin, early this month you attended a conference in Los Angeles, the Electric Drive Transportation Association Conference and Exposition. That's a mouthful. Anyway, you got a chance to take a look at what's in the market and also what are now in the conceptual stages... how optimistic are vendors that these contraptions are actually gonna be ready for the mass market anytime soon? >> Martin LaMonica: Well I think it's definitely going to happen. I think what many people may be disappointed with is how long it's going to take. The issue is it takes a heck of a lot of time to get a car in the market. I think if you're talking mass market, realistic 2012. That's when the cars will be rolled, and part of the delay isn't just the technology and the manufacturing and the supply chain - those are all issues - but the manufacturers, the car companies, want to make sure that there's an infrastructure for these things to work. See, you need charging stations in people's homes you need charging stations in public places. So I'd say it's gonna take a while. >> Charlie Cooper: 64,000 dollar question of course, is Detroit ready to make not just incremental changes but the real radical moves that would produce more efficient vehicles? From the folks that you've been speaking with, what's the feedback? >> Martin LaMonica: Yeah, GM will say that they're committed to doing these efficient cars, electric vehicles, they're betting the company on the electric platform as sort of the power train of the future. So and they'll point out that they have very many fuel efficient cars already. Chrysler has accelerated their plans, Ford has electric cars and this eco boost technology that make... regular gasoline cars more efficient. So I think they would say that they're ready and you have to get the sense, I mean I really can't speak for them, but you have to get the sense that they know that this is serious; that if they don't do this, then a lot of things won't happen like this bailout package that's being discussed. >> Charlie Cooper: Right now DC's being very careful where they place their bets ever since the market meltdown of course. What about the electric auto sector? Is that still receiving sufficient amount of attention? >> Martin LaMonica: Well one of the big technology problems in the whole electric car... move, is batteries. Lithium ion batteries have become the battery of choice and there are some, there are companies doing that but I've heard some battery companies say that for them to get to the volumes, the millions of cars that... electric cars that people want, it will take a long time. They don't have that manufacturing capacity on line, in the U. S. anyway. I think... >> Charlie Cooper: I propose that there is a company run by Shai Agassi, former number two over at SAP, a better place and they have an idea on how to build an electric charging infrastructure. >> Martin LaMonica: Yes, and the idea there is to have picked sort of just... contained areas. They're starting in Israel, they're starting in Denmark. In Australia they have this one sort of corridor set up, well sketched out, it's not really set up yet, where they would have charging stations. And the idea is there you swap in batteries. So that's sort of... you pull up sort of a, it looks like a carwash and you go in, they pull out your depleted battery and put a fresh one in. And that's sort of a very innovative business model. It's not any high tech necessarily. It's the batteries that are available now, but it's an innovative business model to kind of jumpstart the whole thing; the whole movement. >> Charlie Cooper: Do they wash your windows as well? >> Martin LaMonica: That would be nice. I'm not sure, maybe that's a service they'll add onto it. To answer your question about VC's and... auto investing, it's on the rise and certainly better place they've secured; I think 200 million dollars just to get off the ground. But the numbers are pretty impressive, in 2003 there was 8 million dollars invested in auto related things. And this year we're talking about 250 million dollars in the first 3 quarters of this year. So it's definitely a hot area that has been dominated by the incumbents for a long time. >> Charlie Cooper: Great stuff, thanks Martin. >> Martin LaMonica: Thank you. >> Charlie Cooper: On behalf of CNET News, I'm Charlie Cooper. [ music ]

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