Today: Tesla CEO Elon Musk confirms Supercharger expansion and plans for cheaper models even while big car companies slash prices on electric vehicles as sales stagnate. Also: Facebook bounces back and Apple (AAPL) gains as Wall Street has a strong day.
The lead: Tesla looks to expand as major manufacturers seek electric buyers
Tesla Motors (TSLA) CEO Elon Musk officially announced Thursday that Tesla is expanding its Supercharger network to service what it hopes is a legion of drivers using the Palo Alto company's all-electric vehicles nationwide, even as major car manufacturers struggle to match Tesla's sales success.
After a string of successes including its first profitable quarter, the highest score ever bequeathed by Consumer Reports and early repayment of a large government loan, Musk announced the Supercharger plans a day early at the AllThingsD conference in Los Angeles on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Silicon Valley entrepreneur went into more detail about his plans for Tesla's future -- even if that future is post-apocalyptic.
"Even if there's a zombie apocalypse, you'll still be able to travel the country on the Tesla Supercharger network," Musk touted in pointing out the chargers' solar storage.
Tesla's network of fast-charging stations will triple in size next month, Musk said, with the current eight -- six of them in California -- joined by Superchargers in locales such as the Pacific Northwest, Texas and the Midwest. That number will continue to grow -- "Within six months the Tesla supercharger network will connect most of the major metro areas in the U.S. and Canada," Tesla said in its news release -- and the chargers will receive new technology that will allow them to fully charge a Model S in about half the 45 minutes it currently takes.
The burgeoning Supercharger network will allow Tesla owners to drive cross-country, and Musk says he will prove that by taking a road trip from New York to California this summer with his five children; Musk did not say if they would be joined by actress Cameron Diaz, whom the New York Post reported has been spending time with the high-profile CEO of late.
"Knowing that you can drive across the country makes the idea of the Model S more feasible," Kelley Blue Book senior analyst Alec Gutierrez told the Mercury News on Thursday
Tesla's network of cars could get a lot more customers before the end of the decade, as Musk discussed plans for a cheaper Tesla electric car to be introduced "in the next three to four years." With the price of a Model S starting around $70,000, Tesla's plans for an offering closer to $30,000 could open up the company to a new wave of customers.
"When Tesla comes out with a $30-40k car it's game over. They will start selling 100,000 cars a year and KO the Prius. The relentless software updates to the Model S are a true game changer," tech entrepreneur and investor Jason Calacanis predicted to Benzinga.
Other electric cars are not matching Tesla's selling ability, however. The Associated Press reported Thursday that Honda is the latest large car company to slash prices on an all-electric offering, bringing the Fit EV's per-month lease cost down $130 to $259 and offering a free charger and other amenities. GM and Nissan have announced similar reductions lately on their all-electric offerings.
While Tesla sold nearly 5,000 Model S all-electric cars in the first quarter, that was more than a third of 12,000 all-electric vehicles sold in the United States during that time period. That total accounts for less than 1 percent of the nearly 5 million cars sold in the U.S. during those three months, a total that could lead to large manufacturers rethinking their all-electric ambitions.
If major manufacturers stay on the electric avenue, however, Musk said Tesla would be open to sharing its Supercharger network with cars from other manufacturers -- as long as they adopted Tesla's technology.
Tesla stock -- which passed $100 for the first time earlier this week after a huge post-earnings bump -- gained slightly Thursday, adding 0.3 percent to close at $104.95.
SV150 market report: Facebook, Apple and Netflix gain; HP and Cisco hit 52-week highs
Wall Street gained Thursday, led by technology companies: The tech-heavy Nasdaq far outpaced the Dow Jones industrial average and Standard& Poor's 500, while the SV150 had a stronger day than the three major U.S. indexes.
Facebook, which had fallen to a six-month low in a month riddled with criticisms and disappointments, bounced back Thursday on the strength of two analyst upgrades that focused on the potential for video advertising to boost the Menlo Park company's revenues. While there are concerns about young users abandoning Facebook, shares managed a gain of 5.3 percent to $24.55 and experienced their largest intraday gain since November, Bloomberg reported.
Apple gained 1.5 percent to $451.58 as reports centered on the Cupertino company's efforts to use eye-tracking technology and the sale of 100 million iPod Touch devices. Netflix (NFLX) increased 3.4 percent to $222.66, recovering some of the losses experienced earlier this week after mixed reviews of its new season of "Arrested Development," though Netflix exec Ted Sarandos scoffed at those reports.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) hit another new 52-week intraday high Thursday, when it reportedly brought in an executive who had a long look at rival Dell's books, but ended the session with a slight 0.1 percent gain at $25.26. An analysis showed that HP's server sales were down, along with Redwood City's Oracle (ORCL), while San Jose networking giant Cisco (CSCO) made gains in that area; Oracle declined 0.2 percent to $34.34 while Cisco roared to a new 52-week high and ended the session with a 1 percent gain at $24.37.
The SV150 index of Silicon Valley's largest tech companies: Up 12.13, or 0.95 percent, to 1,285.3
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 23.78, or 0.69 percent, to 3,491.3
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 21.73, or 0.14 percent, to 15,324.53
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 6.05, or 0.37 percent, to 1,654.41
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.