DETROIT -- Global automakers are readying a new generation of mass-market electric cars with more than double the driving range of today's Nissan Leaf, betting that technical breakthroughs by big battery suppliers such as LG Chem will jump-start demand and pull them abreast of Tesla Motors Inc.
At least four major automakers -- General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Nissan Motor Corp. and Volkswagen AG -- plan to challenge Tesla to be first to field affordable electric vehicles that will travel up to 200 miles (322 km) between charges.
That is more than twice as far as current lower-priced models such as the Nissan Leaf, which starts at $29,010. The new generation of electric cars is expected to be on the market within two to three years.
To get a Tesla Model S that delivers 265 miles (427 km) on a charge requires buying a version that starts at $81,000 before tax incentives. Most electric cars offered at more affordable prices can travel only about 75 to 85 miles (121 to 137 km) on a charge -- less in cold weather or when drivers have the air conditioning on.
Consumers who travel longer distances fear getting stranded, a sales-killing concern automakers call "range anxiety."
Range anxiety is one reason only about 67,700 electric vehicles were sold in the United States last year. That was about 0.4 percent of the 16.5 million new cars and trucks sold.
Automakers need to pump up electric vehicle demand significantly by 2018. That is when California and eight other states will begin to require the companies to meet much higher sales targets for so-called zero emission vehicles -- in other words, electric cars -- and federal rules on reducing fuel consumption and greenhouse gases become much stricter.
None of the four automakers contacted for this story -- Ford, GM, Nissan and Volkswagen -- wished to comment on future products or other related matters.