The process of building an electric car is—as one Silicon Valley venture capitalist put it—not a matter of “bolting an electric motor to a chassis.” That’s even truer for a hybrid that plugs in for a jolt of extra power. It takes lots of money, talented people and the right materials. Even with all the ingredients, it is not always a smooth road. Take the latest news rocking the relatively small world of electric vehicles.

  • Tesla Motors is suing rival Fisker Coachbuild for doing “substandard” design work on the fledgling car company’s second car—codenamed White Star—while Fisker was keeping its good designs for its own model, the Karma. Tesla’s suit also adds that some of its proprietary technology was pilfered during the period the two companies were working together.
  • This follows Tesla’s numerous delays in getting its first model to market. The initial roadster was delivered in February and production numbers for the year have been scaled back as the price has risen and some features have been scratched.
  • Fisker showed a sexy plug-in hybrid concept at the Detroit Auto Show this year and promises to deliver it next year at a price point of $80,000. The company, which is partnering with Quantum Technologies to produce the vehicles, has raised only $20 million, which is far short of what’s needed to get the exotic vehicle to market in any quantity.
  • Michael Papp, the head of Spark EV, is in jail after being charged with failing to deliver 14 EVs for which he was paid $100,000. His retort is that he is filing for bankruptcy—for the fourth time—but that the cars will be delivered. His website shows a variety of Chinese-built EVs supposedly ready for delivery, but the chatter on electric car websites is that he has never delivered a vehicle.
  • Phoenix Motorcars has been planning to sell a Korean Ssanyong EV pickup and promising to deliver an electric SUV soon afterward. The vehicle’s $47,000 retail cost appeared to be moving up when the company cut its ties with its motor supplier and engineering firm, Boshart Engineering. Boshart is now offering its own version of the Korean electric truck EV, and is suing Phoenix for reneging on its contract. Phoenix ended up delivering no trucks in 2007, but hopes to make its first deliveries in May 2008 after reengineering the vehicle’s motor and drivetrain.
  • Zap, a company that has been selling a variety of electric scooters, bikes and neighborhood electric vehicles for several years, has hit similar bumps in its road to being a credible electric car supplier. It announced a variety of vehicles over the years, including a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle, a multi-fuel vehicle from Brazil and a high-horsepower EV sedan, but so far has delivered only a three-wheeled electric vehicle called the Xebra with a 40 mph top speed and a 25-mile range. The company also is in litigation over its attempt last year to import and federalize Daimler Smart cars.

The bottom line on this part of the electric car story—as companies like Nissan, Mitsubishi and General Motors announce their latest plug-in vehicles—is that selling an electric car is much easier than actually building and delivering one.