8 big ideas to watch in '08

Sir Richard will help fund U.S. entrepreneurs, jetpacks will finally fly, and GPS devices will show the cheapest gas nearby - plus much more! Check out our Next Little Thing picks for 2008.

Putting the zoom in electric cars
This Aptera hybrid gets 300 mpg.
Putting the zoom in electric cars
For the first time since the early 20th century, America is seeing a flowering of entrepreneurship in the auto industry. At least 11 new electric car companies, each working on a wide range of technologies, have launched or plan to launch models. These upstarts are not modest. They believe they can do what major automakers have failed to do: bring an electric car to the mass market.

Electric cars, to be sure, are not new. About a century ago Thomas Edison joined forces with Henry Ford to develop an electric car that would be as affordable as the Model T. In those early days of the automobile, hundreds of manufacturers tried to compete, making both electric and gasoline-powered cars. But economies of scale were not on their side, and small shops -- some 415 of them in 1914 -- eventually gave way to the Big Three.

The internal-combustion engine could be refueled more conveniently than a battery could be recharged, especially on long trips, and that advantage all but killed electric auto technology. Over the years entrepreneurs would occasionally emerge with a new design to challenge the Big Three, yet all failed. The two most memorable flameouts: Preston Tucker in 1948 with his Tucker Torpedo, and John De Lorean with his silver gull-winged sports car in the 1970s -- both of which used internal-combustion engines.

So why does today's new breed of small, renegade car company think it can succeed where so many other auto startups have failed? The entrepreneurs and investors behind the firms point to four factors: consumer desire to address global warming, an abundance of investment capital, new breakthroughs in fiber composite body material, and the availability of cheap computing power and software that help simulate design challenges long before new cars hit the road.


Virgin Money

Electric cars

Greener charcoal

Jetpacks

Wi-Fly

Weedy wine

Real estate in '08

Advanced GPS
Read the full stories behind our 8 picks for 2008. (more)
Behind the scenes at the Boston launch of Virgin Money, Richard Branson's new peer-to-peer lending service. (more)
Check out how our past Next Little Thing picks are holding up. (more)
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Market indexes are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer Morningstar: © 2014 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Disclaimer The Dow Jones IndexesSM are proprietary to and distributed by Dow Jones & Company, Inc. and have been licensed for use. All content of the Dow Jones IndexesSM © 2014 is proprietary to Dow Jones & Company, Inc. Chicago Mercantile Association. The market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2014. All rights reserved. Most stock quote data provided by BATS.