LONDON (Reuters) -- Imagine driving across America using a fuel so new you have to carry your own supply wherever you go.
At the start of the 20th century, before the era of ubiquitous gas stations, drivers did just that as they tested the limits of cars like the Ford Model T, which ran on gasoline, kerosene or ethanol and could, if driven carefully, travel more than 150 miles on a full tank.
Now a new generation of drivers is set to embark on a similar experiment. Until recently, most electric vehicles have had a range of just a few dozen miles, limiting their usefulness and appeal. That is a big reason the long-talked-about era of electric vehicles has been talked about for so long with little real-world progress.
Over the next couple of years, though, tens of thousands of electric cars will hit the laneways of Europe, the streets of the United States, and the gleaming highways of Asia. These new battery-powered vehicles have much longer ranges than their predecessors -- up to 250 miles in the case of the Tesla Roadster, but mostly about 100 miles -- and are likely to be the first to sell in large numbers.
By 2020, says J.D.Power Automotive Forecasting, annual sales of electric vehicles will reach 2 million. Banking giant HSBC is even more optimistic and puts the figure at 9 million. That still falls short of the 61 million gas- and diesel-driven vehicles sold around the world in 2009, but a huge leap from the 5,000 or so EVs sold last year.
Even as these shiny new vehicles take to the road, serious questions remain about the infrastructure -- or rather, the lack of infrastructure -- to charge them. In an echo of last century's battle over the best fuel source, the way in which the coming fleet of electric vehicles will be recharged has not been settled -- and all the proposed models have flaws.
Some experts believe EVs should plug in at a driver's home or workplace. Others back a global network of roadside recharging stations. One prominent company is pushing the idea of gasoline station-like outlets where you can zip in and quickly switch your almost-dead battery for a fully charged one. Another group advocates avoiding "pure" EVs and the problem of charging infrastructure altogether, focusing on hybrid cars.