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Originally published Friday, November 18, 2005 at 12:00 AM

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Electric cars get another jolt of interest

If at first you don't succeed, and electric cars didn't succeed the first time around, is it worth trying again? General Motors brought out...

Chicago Tribune

LAS VEGAS — If at first you don't succeed, and electric cars didn't succeed the first time around, is it worth trying again?

General Motors brought out a battery-powered car that it leased between 1996 and 2000. Because only 800 motorists signed up for one, GM scrapped that venture into an alternative-fuel, nonpolluting machine.

While the industry has turned to gas/electric vehicles to conserve fuel and clean the air, battery power alone may be poised for another run.

"We had the Lancer Evo Miev on display at the Tokyo auto show, a battery-powered electric that uses electric motors to propel each wheel," said Rich Gilligan, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Motors in the U.S. "Maybe we'll have something similar to Miev at an upcoming auto show in the U.S.," he said of the January event in Detroit.

GM gave up on electrics because they could travel only 80 to 100 miles before having to plug in for a six- to eight-hour recharge.

They were limited to warm climates because cold-weather operation drained battery power more quickly.

Because nothing has changed there, Gilligan admits a battery car wouldn't be for the masses.

But he hints that if a version of Miev is produced for the United States, it might be able to get up to 200 miles of range before a recharge.

"It would be low-volume, but it would send a message that Mitsubishi is committed to technology and the environment. Besides, until we know when hydrogen refueling stations will be set up on every corner, fuel-cell cars are still out in the distant future."

While fuel-cell cars, which run on hydrogen, are undergoing testing, estimates are that they are still 10 years from being seen in anything but limited numbers on the roadways.

There's no refueling network to serve them. The gas/electrics are seen as a fuel-efficient stopgap until they arrive.

"Electric cars would have a limited range, and you couldn't drive one from Chicago to Denver without a lot of long stops to recharge," Gilligan said.

"But for use in some metro areas, consumers won't mind using them during the day and recharging them overnight, because to those people, having to spend $40 to $50 a week on gas means an awfully lot."

Guess the success of an electric depends as much on range as on whether a concept such as Miev ever becomes reality.

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