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The great electric car race of 2010

This year, more automakers will roll out electric cars to American roadways.

By / Staff Writer for The Christian Science Monitor / February 1, 2010

Nissan, Chevrolet, and many other automakers are racing it get their electric cars to market.

Dan Vasconcellos

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For Jason Hendler and more than 50,000 others who put their names on an Internet "want list" in hopes of one day owning the Chevrolet Volt plug-in car, the wait is almost over.

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After more than two years of online debating, wailing, and waiting with each other, Mr. Hendler and his fellow Volt-ophiles could actually have the long-promised hybrid electric-drive vehicle sitting in their driveways this fall – at least in theory.

It may be a long shot to actually get one, he acknowledges, at least this year. Only 7,000 to 10,000 Volts are supposed to be made available this fall. Just a few thousand more competing electric-drive cars will be available for sale this year – such as the Nissan Leaf, BYD e6, and Fisker Karma.

Yet for Hendler and the nation, 2010 is when the rubber hits the road and the electrified next generation of vehicles gets a reality check. Real buyers will be kicking real tires, forking over a slice of their life savings, and gliding off dealer lots in glorious all-electric silence.

"These are not tiny electric 'punishment' cars," Hendler says in an interview. "They're tangible, real cars that people would really want to buy. Until now electric vehicles have been more like a golf cart. Now they have range and highway speed and performance we've never seen before."

Expert watchers of the plug-in phenomenon concur.

"By the end of this year we will see the first few models on honest-to-goodness American driveways and roadways," says Bradley Berman, editor of Hybridcars.com. "This is the last year that it's a lot more talk than actual product in the marketplace."

By November, and perhaps as soon as September, the Chevy Volt – an electric passenger car that goes 40 miles on a charge before a range-extending gas engine kicks in – will appear in dealer showrooms. It may also cost less than the $40,000 many had expected, General Motors officials hinted at the Detroit Auto Show earlier this month. But it will be available only in California and Michigan and maybe a few other locations.

The Nissan Leaf, an electric-drive all-battery-powered vehicle, will go up to 100 miles before needing overnight recharging. About 5,000 to 10,000 Leafs will be available by December, Nissan says.

The Leaf will debut in Washington State, Oregon, California, Arizona, and Tennessee, where it is being manufactured, according to Plug In America, an advocacy group that tracks vehicle development.

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