EV Watch

Electric cars, so recently declared dead with the â''killingâ'' of GMâ''s EV-1, are back with a vengeance at this yearâ''s North American International Auto Show, which opened yesterday Jan. 12 in Detroit. Among the announcements made or expected to be made:

â'¢ Toyoto will introduce a plug-in hybrid by the end of this year, to be powered by lithium ion batteries ahead of GMâ''s Chevrolet Volt, which is expected on the market next year at a price of about $40,000.

â'¢ GM will build a factory in the United States to assemble batteries for the Volt, in cooperation with Koreaâ''s LG Chem.

â'¢ Honda showed off its new Insight Hybrid, which it plans to sell as little as $18,000.

.â'¢ Ford showed off its new Fusion hybrid and has announced plans to introduce an all-electric commercial van next year, to be followed by a similar electric car the year after that.

â'¢ Chinese lithium-ion battery maker BYD has unveiled its F3DM hybrid, which it will sell in China for the equivalent of about $22,000 and which it hopes to introduce in the United States and Europe next year.

BYD, based in Shenzhen, is the worldâ''s second leading manufacturer of lithium ion batteries and has been trading publicly on the Hong Kong exchange since 2002; Warren Buffettâ''s MidAmerican Energy Holdings Co. has a 10 percent state in the company, according to a detailed account in todayâ''s Wall Street Journal.

Nissan already has announced plans to market an electric car in the United States and Japan as early as next year, and Chrysler hopes to do the same; Hyundai will start selling a hybrid next year. Toyota, still with its Prius by far the world leader in hybrids, has two new models, a third-generation Prius and the luxury Lexus HS250s.

U.S. automakers are hoping to get r&d support from the government, as part of the automotive bailout package. â''We donâ''t want to go from being dependent on other nations for petroleum to being depending on other nations for inow-how,â'' GMâ''s research chief Larry Burns has said.

Will U.S. consumers pay big premiums to drive green, now that gasoline prices are lower and pocketbooks thinner? That's the $64,000 question, as we used to say.

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