Starting in 2011, Chevrolet will be introducing their newest vehicle, an alleged electric car called the Volt. It's advertised as getting up to 40 miles per charge, and after the battery runs out, it's gas engine will create it's own electricity, allowing the Volt to drive for much longer than it's battery life. (*1) Hmm...that sounds somewhat like a hybrid. Nice try Chevy, but Nissan showed you up.
The new Nissan Leaf, to start mass production in 2012 (though some will be on the road by the end of this year), is a gas-free, oil-free, completely electric car. No emissions, because it doesn't even have a tailpipe. It has a range of 100 miles per charge...so it's not necessarily the type of car you'd want to take on a road trip, but it's perfect for commuting or just cruisin' around town. The Leaf boasts to be "partially made from recycled material, and is designed to be almost fully recyclable by the end of it's life." (*2) Of course, who knows what percentage "partially" really equates to, but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt since they're making an effort.
(Note: this picture is a model that they took on tour, the ones for sale won't have the big "zero emissions" decal on the side.)
With a standard home charging unit of 220V, the battery can fully recharge in 4-8 hours. So you can plug it in at night and be ready to go in the morning, just like most people do with their cell phones. The battery is expected to last 5-10 years. The car also uses no energy to idle, so you won't be running down the battery while you wait at stoplights. It's got all the features you'd want on a normal car...heat and a/c, radio, a USB hookup for iPods and MP3 players, etc. Nissan also claims that the Leaf "handles and accelerates like a V6 car and has a top speed of up to 90 mph." (*2)
The Nissan Leaf is priced at $32,780, but with "the federal tax credit of $7,500 the price drops to a very affordable $25,280." (*3) Affordable, that is, if you're not a poor college student buried under an ever increasing mountain of student loans, like myself. (I'm just hoping my poor old '98 Pontiac Sunfire with over 215,000 miles will hang on for just a little bit longer.) But back to the point, the Leaf is basically the same price as any new car nowadays. Plus, you can feel good about owning one. Sure, the power from your car will still probably come from fossil fuel guzzling power plants, but electric is still cleaner than burning gas, and eventually the grid will switch over to more sustainable forms of energy. And there are other benefits: electric cars will reduce dependence on foreign oil, and many states offer additional incentives on top of the federal cut, including things like being able to drive in the carpool lane (even if you're the only one in the car!).
Of course, the one major disadvantage to owning a practical electric car like the Nissan Leaf is knowing that your car will never be as badass as the Tesla Roadster. (What, you didn't know there were electric sports cars?) The Roadster can do zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds, 125 miles per hour, and can run 236 miles on one charge. Plus, it's a convertible. Unfortunately, market price for the Tesla is around $101,500. (*4) So for the majority of us, keep dreaming. In the meantime, go buy yourself an affordable electric car. Or at the very least, get rid of your Hummer.