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Post oil: Boom in electric car sales fuel gas-free dreams (VIDEO)

More than a dozen new plug-in electric car models will hit the market by 2012, offering drivers a true post oil experience.

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While the status quo is still entrenched – 6 out of 10 Americans polled by USAToday/Gallup said they will not buy an all-electric car no matter how high gas prices go – Nissan executives were enthused about the 43 percent who would consider it.

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As plug-ins hit the street, they provide glimmers of what a world without oil as a requirement for driving would be – from the quiet, peppy ride to the economics and public policy that might arise, say Gartner and other industry experts.

All-electric versions use no gasoline at all – while plug-in hybrid vehicles use battery power first and a tiny gas engine as a range extender. The coming plug-in wave portends a starkly different world, say their new owners and industry experts: No more obligatory, costly trips to fill up. No imported oil. No, or far fewer, tailpipe emissions. And for many plug-in owners – 30 percent of whom today already have solar panels on their garage rooftops to charge their vehicles' batteries – there are no emissions at all.

While some experts forecast 6 million to 12 million plug-in vehicles on US roads by 2020, that would still be just 3 to 4 percent of all cars on the road. But their presence could accelerate far more rapidly if oil prices soar, experts say.

For General Motors, meanwhile, electric vehicles could make up 10 percent of the auto giant's production in 10 to 15 years, GM president Dan Akerson told the Detroit Free Press in January.

"[We have] studies under way to see what we could do if we had to double production [or] triple production," Mr. Akerson said at the Volt's launch in late 2010. "I have a sense this is going to be a game changer. We have to be prepared to meet that."

Still, at this point, just 10,000 Americans have purchased an electric-drive plug-in vehicle – either a Nissan Leaf or a Chevrolet Volt, the only such vehicles currently available from major automakers. But that's not a reflection of demand: Both GM and Nissan have long waiting lists and are sold out this year – and maybe next, says Bradley Berman, editor of Plugincars.com.

The Leaf is a $35,200 all-electric vehicle (EV) that uses no gasoline. A charged battery takes it about 100 miles. The price of the Volt plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) is $39,995. Its small gas engine recharges the battery if a 40-mile range is exceeded. Both qualify for a $7,500 federal tax break and lease for about $370 per month.

Mr. Bulla and his wife, Pat, who own two cars – a conventional gas-electric hybrid Toyota Prius and their Leaf – say the Leaf has changed their lives. Zipping around Austin to appointments and shopping, they almost always opt to drive the all-electric-powered car. The outlines of their post-oil world are vivid for them: Sailing past gas stations is great fun – and there's satisfaction that they're not contributing to the demand for oil from hostile countries, the Bullas say. Solar panels on their garage rooftop that charge the Leaf's battery provide another big benefit: no emissions at all. There's great relief that we are not contributing to global warming anymore with our driving, Mr. Bulla says.

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