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Shades of Green: Tesla Motors and Elon Musk

Scott is a member of The Motley Fool Blog Network -- entries represent the personal opinion of the blogger and are not formally edited.

The Growing Acceptance of Electric Vehicles

One of my favorite pastimes recently is to see just how efficiently I can drive my car. Throughout the summer I get 10 miles to the gallon more than the 43/40 miles per gallon that the window sticker advertised. But, that’s in a gas-electric hybrid. I wonder what I’d be able to do in an electric vehicle.

It took a few years before I decided to buy my hybrid. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I believed that hybrid cars would fall through the cracks of history like the Betamax and Laserdisc, leaving me stuck with a vehicle, which no one would be able to service.

It never happened.

There were some green reasons I bought my hybrid -- both environmental shades and cash shades. But, regardless of one’s opinions on the source of global warming, the value of carbon credits, or the importance of recycling, everyone likes to save money and feel more secure.

I think that electric vehicles (EVs) are poised to satisfy both of those interests.

People are getting charged up

The subject of EVs is becoming an increasing part of the national conversation. Motor Trend named the Tesla Motors (NASDAQ: TSLA) Model S as the 2013 Car of the Year, and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, in a recent State of the City address, announced plans for creating 10,000 public parking spots (charging stations) for electric vehicles over the next 7 years. To put that in perspective, there are currently about 15, 989 non-residential charging outlets nationwide.

In addition to the high price tag of EVs (which is consistently dropping), many people are hesitant to buy the cars for fear of running out of charge during a trip. This issue caused a firestorm in the media when a NY Times reporter revealed that he suffered from this problem on a recent test drive. Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, retaliated on Twitter, which prompted another article from the reporter, which prompted another response from Musk, who is proving how sensitive he is to assuaging the public’s fears of EVs.

These “running out of charge” fears during a trip sound familiar.

It is reminiscent of people’s reluctance to embrace natural gas vehicles due to the few stations, which supply CNG or LNG. Many consumers want to wait for a greater number of stations to be built before they switch over, but companies are reluctant to build stations, which offer natural gas because there aren’t enough vehicles, which would make the endeavor profitable. Although this seems to be a stalemate, with only 1,197 CNG stations nationwide and 66 LNG stations, it doesn’t seem like it will remain a stalemate.

This chick and egg dilemma is being successfully handled by Clean Energy Fuels (NASDAQ: CLNE) which is remedying this issue by developing America’s Natural Gas Highway -- a network of stations strategically located along inter-state trucking routes. Currently, this comprises about 70 stations, of which Clean Energy saw a 25% increase in deliveries in 2012. In addition to this project, Clean Energy continues to form partnerships with state and city governments to assist with their growing, natural gas fleets.

So where does that leave EVs?

Clean Energy proves that building out an infrastructure for an alternative fuel vehicle is possible; therefore, it would appear that doing the same for EVs is equally feasible (if not more so). According to Tesla’s website, they have established 9 supercharging stations in North America, and they plan to expand to 100 more in 2015 -- a move in the right direction. But, perhaps Tesla and Clean Energy would benefit from a joint venture, in which they worked on developing America’s Electric Vehicle Highway.

Or maybe, Musk can go it alone with the help of one of his other endeavors, SolarCity (NASDAQ: SCTY). As founder and chairman, Musk has led SolarCity to be one of the leading installers of solar systems nationwide. SolarCity offers clients an affordable and easy path to convert their homes to solar powered electricity. I recently met with a representative about my options, and I am seriously considering signing with them -- especially as prices from my local utility continue to rise. Maybe some day, people could power their Tesla cars with their SolarCity panels and more greatly assert their energy self-sufficiency?

Whether a Clean Energy partnership comes to fruition or not, my money is on Elon Musk. Why wouldn’t it be? Aside from co-founding PayPal, he founded SpaceX, a space launch vehicle company whose Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station a few days ago. If NASA trusts him, why shouldn’t we?

The shocking conclusion

It will be years (if ever) before EVs comprise the majority of cars on the road, but Tesla is making great strides in bringing these cars to the market. It will take time to ease people’s concerns about making the switch to these vehicles, but it will happen. Look at all that’s happened in the past few years.  

Fool blogger Scott Levine owns shares of Clean Energy. The Motley Fool recommends Clean Energy Fuels and Tesla Motors . The Motley Fool owns shares of Tesla Motors . Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. Is this post wrong? Click here. Think you can do better? Join us and write your own! 

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