Four Buzz-Worthy Electric Cars

A snapshot of what you can buy right now, and what you can expect to see in the months and years ahead.
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Although gas prices have fallen dramatically since last summer, many automakers are still moving ahead with plans to introduce new electric vehicles. Chevy expects to roll out its Volt electric car by 2010, but you don't have to wait that long to get your hands on a gas-free vehicle.

So what can you buy right now, and what can you expect to see in the months and years ahead? Here's a quick rundown.

The Tesla Roadster

, $109,000

Tesla Motors

breaks the mold when it comes to electric-powered cars. Rather than being small and clunky, the Tesla Roadster looks like it came out of Lamborghini's factory in Italy. That's not surprising, since it's assembled at the Lotus plant in the United Kingdom, with final assembly taking place at the Tesla factory in Menlo Park, Calif. With that pedigree, you'd expect the Tesla Roadster to be fast, and it is, jumping from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.9 seconds.

The Tesla achieves its impressive power thanks to a 248-horsepower, 375-volt electric motor, which links to single-speed shifter and an innovative lithium-ion battery pack. The Tesla will run between 170 and 256 miles on a single charge, depending on how hard the car is driven.

Tesla Roadster

You can fully charge the Tesla's battery in as little as 3.5 hours using a high power connector, which comes as standard equipment. And with an optional mobile connector, you can charge the Roadster anywhere by connecting it to any 110-volt outlet. Tesla is currently taking reservations for 2009 models.

The ZENN

, $16,000

Don't have an extra $100,000 lying around in your bank account? Not to worry. You can jump on the electric car bandwagon with the neat little

ZENN

, or the Zero Emissions, No Noise, electric vehicle from Toronto-based

ZENN Motor

.

As its price tag suggests, this is no Tesla Roadster. It's classified as a low-speed vehicle (LSV) and maxes out at 25 mph. LSVs are approved for use on low-speed roads in about 45 states and are designed for recreational purposes primarily in retirement and other planned communities with golf courses.

The front-wheel-drive, three-door hatchback ZENN, which is built in Toronto, has a range of 35 to 50 miles and plugs into a standard 110-volt outlet for charging, which takes about eight hours. The company plans to introduce a highway-capable, fully certified 80-mph electric car called the cityENN in the fall of 2009.

Miles Highway Speed

, $40,000-$45,000

Most electric vehicles are still in the "soon to be introduced" mode. That describes the Miles Highway Speed electric vehicle, expected to go on sale in early 2010. Currently undergoing testing, the Highway Speed, from California-based

Miles Electric Vehicles

, will have a top speed of 80 mph and will travel about 120 miles on a single charge.

With sporty styling by Italian automotive designer Pininfarina and equipped with such features as power seats, a sunroof, air conditioning and advanced airbags, the Highway Speed will match many of today's gas-powered sedans in looks and equipment. Vehicles should be available for test drives later in 2009. By the way, the Highway Speed's price should drop several thousand dollars once federal and state rebates are factored in.

Chevrolet Volt

, $30,000-$35,000

Finally, a few words about the long-anticipated

Chevy Volt

. There's been a lot of hoopla surrounding the Volt, and

General Motors

(GM) - Get Report

has staked its reputation on the car.

Officially referred to as an Extended-Range Electric Vehicle, the five-door, four-passenger Volt is not a true electric car. It's a fancy plug-in hybrid, with an electric motor and lithium-ion battery that will drive the car up to 40 miles, and a gasoline powerplant takes over after that, extending the vehicle's range to about 400 miles.

Chevy says since most commuters travel less than 40 miles a day, the Volt will essentially operate as an electric vehicle. Just plug it in at night and it's ready to go in the morning. GM can only hope the Volt delivers an equivalent jolt to its sales.

Bob Feeman is a former editor of Robb Report and Smart HomeOwner magazines, and now writes full time about a variety of subjects. He's based in Maine.