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TheStreet Open House

First Comparison: BMW i3 vs. Chevrolet Volt

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Extended-range electric cars: It's a mouthful of a phrase. It also turns out to be the ideal compromise between the advantages of an electric car and the advantages of a gasoline engine car.

Many people do most of their driving to and from work, and they could charge their car at home as well as at work. However, they also need to be prepared for the unexpected trip of undetermined length, where charging stations may be nonexistent or otherwise impractical because of charging time.

When you gotta go, you gotta go -- and you don't want to be limited by your car's range or refueling capability.

There is a further delineation in the plug-in hybrid car market: full power electric versus blended power. There are many cars sold somewhere in the world already, made by Ford (F), Toyota (TM), Porsche, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Honda (HMC), among others, that are plug-in hybrids, but not 100% of the power is available in electric mode.

Basically, those cars operate in blended mode where if you want more than, say, one-third of available power, the gasoline engine will kick in. That has some merit, but is no fun to drive, as anyone who has driven these cars know.

At a minimum, this kind of plug-in hybrid with blended power will become the new baseline configuration for almost all automakers around the world. Apart from the aforementioned, BMW, Mercedes, VW and Audi have similarly architected models announced and ready for launch no later than 2015. This architecture will dominate car sales before long, probably by 2018 or 2019.

However, there are two plug-in hybrids in the market that do things a little differently: General Motors' (GM) Chevrolet Volt and BMW i3 with range-extender. Yes, I know there is also the Cadillac ELR, and yes I know all the differences and nuances. But for purposes of this discussion it is the same car as the Chevrolet Volt.

What these two cars do differently than all the other plug-in hybrids is they offer all of their power in all-electric mode. You can floor both the BMW i3 and Chevrolet Volt and they will accelerate up to their top speed in all-electric mode. It's 100% electric power.

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