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Sun, Jan 17, 2010 - Page 12 News List

Electric cars struggle to spark enthusiasm amid bleak recession

By Andrew Clark  /  THE GUARDIAN , DETROIT

That, said Jim Hall, an automotive expert at 2953 Analytics, a Detroit-based research company, is a major sticking point.

“The average American sees a car as a tool that must be able to do everything. Our cars are viewed as Swiss army knives,” he said.

Another reason, Hall believes, for the slow take-up of electric vehicles is that consumers most concerned about the environment also tend to be “late adopters” who are suspicious of impenetrable technology: “They’ll be concerned about the nickel in the batteries — the fact that nickel must be mined and that nickel is toxic.”

Other ideas are being tested. Hyundai showed off a prototype called the Blue-Will this week, with roof-mounted solar cells to help recharge its lithium batteries.

Tesla Motors, a small Silicon Valley company, has come up with a way to extend the range of a battery-powered car. Its test drivers recently managed to go 500km through the Australian Outback on a single charge.

But the most keenly awaited mainstream “green” launch will be GM’s Chevrolet Volt, a hybrid that can go 64km on a single electric charge, but then harness power from its internal combustion engine to generate more electricity on the go, extending its range to hundreds of kilometers from one tank of gasoline. The Volt, which will cost about US$40,000, will go on sale in the US late this year.

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