Having a celebrity client never hurts. That's Tom Hanks on the website of AC Propulsion Inc., holding the keys to his eBox electric car. The San Dimas, California, company, co-founded in 1992 by Alan Cocconi, 49, designs and manufactures electric power systems for clients such as Wrightspeed. Its eBox, which debuted in 2006, can run for up to 150 miles on a single charge.
AC Propulsion expects to sell more than 100 electric cars in 2008 and over 1,000 by 2010, says president and CEO Tom Gage. The company also creates prototypes for small companies developing electric vehicle technology and for large companies, including Volkswagen and Volvo. "We're confident we can be successful with a market of several thousand cars per year, which by auto industry standards is essentially zero," says Gage.
Even the market for better-known electric hybrids is small. About 247,000 hybrid-electric vehicles, including Toyota Priuses, were sold nationwide last year according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association. Compare that to the federal estimate of 136.6 million passenger cars and 103.8 million trucks on the road in 2005.
But Eberhard believes attitudes are changing. "A few years ago, people thought electric cars were ugly little dorky things nobody wanted to drive. You had to be a hero to be seen in one," he says. Tesla "set about to change that."
We may not know for another generation if these companies are on the road to profitability, but electric vehicles are no longer the nerds of the highway.