New York 2009: Fisker says plug-in hybrids will cost just $20,000 in a decade

According to Henrik Fisker, the auto industry is due for some big changes. As the only representative of a young automaker participating in the Newsweek Future of Automotive Panel Discussion at the New York Auto Show last week, Fisker was the voice of the insurgent. For example, he said that, in 2020, plug-in hybrids will cost less than $20,000. This from the man who's selling them today for $90,000. Another thing that will really change is the way that electricity is generated in America. It will be much, much cleaner, and it's this clean energy that will be what is used to get people to and from work and school. Looking at all the factors, and Fisker said that the next 24 months will be tremendously important for the green scene. "The car industry needs to reinvent itself," he said, "and it needs to happen now."

Other members of the panel included Lou Rhodes, from Chrysler's ENVI and Kevin Smith, from Newsweek's Dan Lyons was the moderator. Read more about what was said after the jump.

Fisker said car companies have been improving the internal combustion engine for about 100 years, and now make improvements to the automobile of just one to two percent a year. This isn't enough, he said, "We need to set some unrealistic goals."

The moderator tried to bait Fisker a bit by asking what he thought will happen to Tesla, but Fisker smartly declined to answer directly. Instead he said that, generally, there have only ever been three major auto companies active at any one time in the U.S., but new vehicle technologies are opening a window for smaller companies to find a legitimate niche. Fisker said he thinks it's reasonable to expect room for 2-3 big car companies and 2-3 small ones.

There was a lot of talk about the sexiness of green and electric cars. Fisker said anyone who spends more than $10,000 on a car cares about style and what that car says about the driver. People who pay less than that are more interested in reliable transportation, getting from A to B probably without trouble. Nonetheless, people today are willing to spend much more for their ICE cars and Fisker believes that the factors driving expensive vehicle purchases today will influence electric-drive models in the future.

The electrification of the vehicle also opens up pathways of communication that simply were not there before. The gas pump, for example, simply dispenses fuel into the tank. A charging cable can not only provide power, but also tell the grid or the owner or the automaker all sorts of details about the vehicle.

Rhodes said that the main reason that there aren't more electric vehicles on the road today is the prohibitive cost. No surprise there. His guess is that the tipping point will happen when there are 100,000 new EVs made and sold annually. Sure, this is a huge number compared to how many EVs are on the road today, but it's a small, small percentage of the vehicles currently sold around the world each year. Chrysler itself sells 40,000 GEMs each year, so it's worth assuming that Rhodes probably means 100,000 full-speed EVs a year to change the world.

Lyons also asked Rhodes if the Dodge EV is going to be a savior for Chrysler. Rhodes answered that it won't be the car that has the potential to turn the company around, but the technology inside it. Electric drive is the future even if, as Fisker said, most people believe that the pure EV market will remain limited for quite a while.

For another report on the panel, see PSFK. You can also listen to the full discussion in the audio clip below. The 49-minute audio clip starts with Henrik Fisker.

The video meant to be presented here is no longer available. Sorry for the inconvenience.

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