Nearly every major automaker plans to roll out environmentally friendly vehicles or add to its current fleet of hybrids or hydrogen-powered cars.
If these plans come to fruition, by around 2012 consumers will be able to choose from:
-- Battery-powered electric vehicles.
-- Plug-in hybrids.
-- Fuel cell vehicles that use hydrogen.
A century ago, cars powered by gasoline, steam and electricity battled for supremacy. Over the next decade, consumers once again will have a number of powertrains and fuels from which to choose. Back then, gasoline-fueled internal combustion engines emerged triumphant. This time there may be more than one winner.
Daimler AG's Smart microcar shows how Americans' car-buying patterns are evolving in an era of environmental concerns and fluctuating fuel prices. Smart has proved that some people will plunk down $13,000 to $20,000 for a small, highly maneuverable car best suited to cities rather than highway driving. First-year sales totaled about 25,000.
So a small battery-powered electric car such as the upcoming Mitsubishi i MiEV or Toyota FT-EV could find a place on American roads, even though the driving range will be limited to about 100 miles on a charge.