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Tesla Motors Inc (TSLA), Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (HMC): When Will Americans Buy Electric Cars?

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There’s no doubt that Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) has found the formula for electric-car success. Tesla’s Model S has won almost every award worth winning – and found plenty of happy customers, too.

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)

The Model S, like Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s first car, the Roadster, proved that battery-electric vehicles could be gorgeous and fun to drive, while being just as functional in the real world as regular gas-powered cars. But the Model S is far from the only electric car on the U.S. market right now. And most of the others are finding sales to be much harder to come by.

Tesla’s Model S sedan. Photo credit: Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA).

Cutting electric-car prices to try to spark sales
The latest evidence that non-Tesla EVs are proving a hard sell came from Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:HMC), which said on Thursday that it would slash the cost of a lease on the electric version of its popular Fit subcompact.

As mass-market electrics go, the Fit EV is a decent one. Its EPA-rated range is 82 miles, ahead of the Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NSANY) Leaf’s 75-mile rating. It’s said to be pretty fun to drive, in a Honda sort of way, and comes fairly well-equipped.

You’d think the fact that it’s a Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:HMC) would help sales. After all, the brand is quite popular in the coastal U.S., where green cars seem to do best. But through April, Honda had sold just 68 Fit EVs so far this year.

That doesn’t compare too well with the 636 Focus Electric EVs sold by Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) over that time span, much less the 5,476 Leafs sold by Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NSANY) over the same period (and the likely 6,000-plus sold by Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)).

But Honda Motor Co Ltd (ADR) (NYSE:HMC) is really following the direction of the market here. Both Ford Motor Company (NYSE:F) and Nissan cut the prices of their slow-selling EVs earlier this year. And General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), which is entering the EV market with its little Chevy Spark EV shortly, has matched Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. (ADR) (OTCMKTS:NSANY)’s inexpensive lease terms.

Still a tough sell here in America
It’s not hard to see why battery-electric cars have been a hard sell in the U.S. Batteries are still heavy, bulky, and expensive, and that means that even small electric cars are heavy, cramped, and relatively expensive – and don’t have anything like the range of their gas-powered equivalents. And places to recharge are still few and far between.

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA)’s Model S is the exception to most of those drawbacks, of course. But the Model S was designed from the start around a big battery pack that would give well more than 200 miles of range — and designed as a luxury car, so that its price would be competitive with gas-powered rivals.

Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) CEO Elon Musk has promised a “mass market” Tesla within a few years, but it sounds like his idea of “mass market” is more like a BMW 3-Series in terms of size and price than it is like a Focus or a Fit.

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