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Plug and Play

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Tesla Roadster: The fashion statement of the moment, this enviable ride costs $120,000, goes from 0 to 60 in 3.7 seconds, and can travel as much as 250 miles on a single charge. The first offering from Tesla, a Silicon-Valley start-up run by PayPal founder Elon Musk, the Roadster has been showered with unmatched love in the form of U.S. federal dollars ($249 million and counting) and celebrity customers (Matt Damon, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman). But production delays have been a concern, and the competition is nipping at its heels.

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Jaguar C-X75: This sleek supercar will have four electric motors plus two micro gas turbines, which collectively should be able to take the vehicle from 0 to 60 miles per hour (mph) in 3.4 seconds, with a top speed of 205 mph. But the cutting-edge technology isn't quite showroom-ready yet -- Jaguar says it will take more time to perfect the gas turbines. When it does, estimates are that the model will cost about $300,000.

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Audi e-tron: This luxury sports car is still in the concept stage, but its four electric motors, with an advertised range of 154 miles on a single charge, and ability to jump from 0 to 60 mph in 4.8 seconds will land it firmly at the high end of the electric-car market, between Jaguar's and Tesla's entries. Like virtually all the new electric models,  it relies on lithium-ion technology. When the E-tron finally hits showrooms -- in 2012 or so -- look for the price to be north of $200,000.

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BYD e6: China's most buzzed-about car company -- it counts Warren Buffett among is investors -- has been pummeled by sluggish electric-vehicle sales at home. But founder Wang Chuanfu insists that BYD's e6 electric crossover will be a winner abroad, where it's supposedly to launch imminently with planned marketing campaigns in Europe and the United States. The price hasn't been announced, but Wang says the car will go 186 miles on a single charge.

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Chevrolet Volt: Much attention is focused on the launch of the Volt, the first major U.S. entry to the hybrid-electric market. It is priced at a steep-for-its-size $41,000 ($33,000 with rebate), raising the question of who exactly will buy it. One selling point of the plug-in hybrid over its pure electric rivals: The Volt will travel 40 miles on its battery alone, at which point its internal combustion engine kicks in to provide supplemental power, thus averting "range anxiety" -- a malady suffered by would-be electric-car buyers.

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Nissan Leaf: Next to the Chevy Volt, the mid-market electric Leaf has the most buzz on the street. It is Japan's hottest electric car offering at the moment, an all-electric high-tech hatchback with the bells and whistles necessary to impress the gadget crowd (Bluetooth, fueling-station finder). Another advantage over many of its competitors: It actually exists. In fact, Lance Armstrong already has one. For the rest of us, the Leaf will be appearing in showrooms later this year, for about $25,000 after the U.S. government's rebate.

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Fisker Karma Sunset convertible: Another prestige entry. With breathtaking confidence, the new U.S. carmaker Fisker will charge north of $120,000 for this Finland-manufactured plug-in hybrid competitor for the Tesla Roadster. The lithium-ion battery will take it 50 miles before the gasoline-powered engine gives it an ultimate range of 250 miles.

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Ford Focus EV: This pure electric vehicle will be a competitor to the much-promoted Nissan Leaf, but Ford has taken a different tack: Rather than design an entirely new vehicle, the company is using a body from the gasoline-driven Focus, and outfitting it with an electric drive. It is expected to be launched at the end of 2011.

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Mitsubishi i MiEV: This pint-size hatchback is getting a lot of traction -- not only is Mitsubishi trotting out its model, but it has sold the technology to European carmakers that will roll out rebranded offerings, such as Peugeot's iOn and Citroën's C-ZERO. The Mitsubishi might be a hit in Japan and Europe, which appreciate Thumbelina-size vehicles, but what about the United States, where small city cars have yet to take off?

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Renault Fluence Z.E. and Kangoo Z.E.: These cars, due to be released at first only in Europe, come with an interesting twist: The batteries are removable, not built into the vehicle like standard advanced batteries, and leased by the mile. The system is tailor-made for Better Place, the company run by Shai Agassi, who will use them to road-test his big idea of creating one-size-fits-all car batteries (think Edison and light bulbs) that motorists can rent in a few moments at a fueling station instead of waiting hours for a recharge.

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Toyota Prius: The original modern hybrid is still the car to beat. Toyota has not yet pushed the Prius into the lithium-ion age, choosing to continue relying on nickel-metal-hydride batteries, but the get-out-the-bugs experience of 13 prior model years is a significant advantage.

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Volkswagen Touareg: One of the only diesel hybrids on the market, the Touareg SUV can go 30 miles on a charge, complemented by all the longevity and fuel efficiency for which diesel-powered motors are known. It's priced in the mid-range at an estimated $42,000.

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