Getting Electric on the Autobahn

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America might be the land of big cars, but Europeans certainly have a soft spot for fast cars — and the region is becoming a major market for electric sports car startups. Fisker Automotive said today it will be setting up shop among the sports car greats with the formation of Fisker Italia. In an e-mailed press release, the Irvine, Calif.-based startup says it plans to sell over 50 percent of its vehicles overseas.

This news comes a week after Tesla Motors’ CEO Ze’ev Drori told the Financial Times that Tesla would start selling Roadsters in Europe for €100,000 ($157,125) by the third quarter of 2008. Meanwhile the ink is barely dry on Shai Agassi’s deal between his startup Project Better Place and the Danish utility DONG to build the charging station and battery-swapping infrastructure for the project’s Renault-built electric vehicles.

Europe offers many advantages for startup electric vehicle makers. The EU has stronger and more stable environmental regulations than the U.S. providing green car makers with more market certainty. Additionally, many of the tax laws in Europe tax petrol-guzzling cars heavily, sometimes over 100 percent, while electric alternatives often benefit from tax incentives for low-emissions vehicles.

The geography of Europe, as compared to the U.S., is also good news for electric vehicles whose range is still an issue. Europe is smaller and more evenly developed; Drori cited, for example, the shorter average distance that Europeans drive as a good thing for Tesla. Darryl Siry, Tesla’s head of sales, also told the FT that the firm is looking to open another factory in Europe to produce a first run of 250 vehicles for the EU market.

Fisker Italia will function purely as an importer. Fisker’s first car, the Karma, is scheduled for U.S. delivery in the fourth quarter of 2009, with the first European shipment due for 2010.

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