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Electric Cars Lead New Models in 2011

Electric cars have been in development for a few years, but industry experts say more efficient batteries, improved performance, and greater consumer acceptance could transform 2011 into the year of the electric car. Our reporter looks at some of the models you'll see in showrooms soon.

Electric cars are set to go mainstream in 2011.

And automakers are all vying for a slice of the potentially lucrative market.

Japanese carmaker Nissan says its new Leaf will appeal to green-minded but budget-conscious consumers. It's priced at about $30,000. But product planning director Mark Perry calls it the affordable electric family car.

"This is the world's first affordable pure zero emission car, battery electric, no gas, no oil," said Perry. "Never have to go to a gas station, never have to do an oil change. Zero emission - there's not even a tailpipe."

French auto maker Peugeot is also getting into the game with the fast charging iOn, designed for short trips around town.

And Renault's diminutive two-seater, the Twizy, boasts a full charge in just under four hours.

Renault says with a range of about 100 kilometers per charge, it's ideal for city use.

But industry experts say the limited range of most electric cars is still a barrier for consumers.

American car maker General Motors believes it has the answer with the new hybrid Volt - which began appearing in showrooms in December.

GM West Coast communications manager Richard James:

"It's an electric vehicle that allows you to drive - if you have a full battery - on pure electricity or your battery reserve for up to 50 miles [80.46 kms]," said James. "What happens after that, to overcome this issue known as "range anxiety," is there's a generator that is built into the car, an internal combustion engine - a gasoline engine essentially - that kicks in automatically, seamless to the consumer, that will charge the battery and so the vehicle will continue to run on its electric architecture for up to 350 miles [563.3 kms]."

But not all electric cars are for the average consumer. Los Angeles Auto Show spokesman Brendan Flynn likes the wow factor of Jaguar's C-X75 hybrid.

"We have this Jaguar that's in the booth right next to us that's a $300,000 electric Supercar that goes from zero to 60 [mph] in 3.2 seconds," said Flynn. "You can go to Vegas and back on one tank of gas."

For those with smaller budgets, Nissan's Micra packs a lot of technology and fuel economy for under $19,000. Besides keyless entry, it can also check the space between parked cars to tell drivers if the car will fit.

Hybrid or not, Road and Track magazine editor Richard Horman says in 2011, the trend is for lighter, smarter, more economical cars.

"When I started this business, cars and trucks were getting bigger and bigger and bigger and trucks were the big thing," said Horman. "Now cars are tending to get smaller. There's even a little Fiat over at the Chrysler stand. Cars getting smaller, becoming more efficient packages."

But don't expect the classic gasoline powered car to disappear. McLaren's Supercar, the MP4-12C, boasts a 3.8 litre V8 twin turbo engine that can go from zero to sixty in three seconds flat. But with a price tag of $260,000, it's not for everyone.