Making successful cars and trucks is never easy, even for well-capitalized, global automakers that have spent more than a century discovering what works and what doesn't.
Doing it while building a company from scratch — an effort that can require investing hundreds of millions of dollars against zero revenue and wooing experts from more secure, high-paying positions at established companies — is virtually impossible.
But the near certainty of failure didn't stop mercurial billionaire Elon Musk, who created the most successful North American automobile startup since World War II. Though it has yet to post an annual profit in nearly a decade of selling cars, Tesla has energized a wave of entrepreneurs who are trying to launch car- making ventures of their own.
For the half- dozen or so startups that have attracted major attention and seven- or eight-figure funding — an unusually high number at one time — tall obstacles remain in their quest to become the next Tesla. These companies are trying to build everything from super-fuel-efficient three-wheeled vehicles (Elio Motors) to high-performance electric luxury sedans (Faraday Future and Lucid Motors) to boxy electric work trucks (Bollinger Motors). One (Local Motors) is using 3-D printing to circumvent the traditional manufacturing process.
Even for outfits that have vast piles of cash — and most don't — the odds of creating a sustainable business selling high-quality vehicles at a profit year after year are somewhere between very slim and none, depending on whom you ask.
"What makes Faraday think they can produce an electric vehicle cheaper than Tesla?" asked Bob Lutz, the longtime industry executive who has been involved with several small automotive ventures since retiring in 2010 as vice chairman of General Motors. "And Tesla is losing their shirts."