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Electric cars charge ahead

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At least nine car companies worldwide say that by 2013 they will offer plug-in vehicles that use electric motors as their primary means of propulsion, according to Plug-in America, an activist group. (See the list here.) Some will be all-electric drive vehicles (EV). Most will be plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) that use small gasoline engines as a backup.

GM and Chrysler both say they will sell a plug-in car in 2010. Ford will sell a battery-powered commercial van next year, a small battery-powered EV car the year after, and a PHEV competitor to GM’s Volt by 2012. Toyota says it will sell a plug-in-hybrid Prius to companies late this year, but hasn’t said when ordinary consumers will be able to buy one. So far, despite its financial woes, GM seems to hold the plug-in lead, Mr. Cole says.

“The key issue [for GM’s new Chevrolet Volt] has been the cost of the battery,” he says. “That cost will take years to come down. But the promise is still high. Teams are meeting their milestones on or ahead of schedule.”

Still, GM officials last week were forced to defend the Volt after a Carnegie Mellon University study found the car’s battery too big and costly to fly in the marketplace. The vehicle is expected to go 40 miles on a charge – and cost about $40,000.

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