electric car industry hasn't exactly taken off in the United States, despite significant
government subsidies: Of the 13 million cars sold last year, only 1 percent were
electric or hybrids. As
Steven Kopits, an energy business consultant, explains in Foreign Policy, electric cars remain
vastly more expensive than fuel-powered cars and have a limited driving range,
making the cars a tough sell.
But the industry isn't giving up -- and may be about to get a recharge. As Google begins to test "self-driving" cars, electric technology might begin to make good economic sense. Self-driving cars going short distances would be perfectly suited to new battery technologies being developed for cutting edge autos. As Kopits explains, these "driverless taxis" will likely be the "biggest time-saving breakthrough since the washing machine." But these new rides don't have to look like a washing machine. Car companies have been hard at work designing sleek new models that give any gas-guzzling sports car a run for its money. Here's a look at some of the best of the new electrics.
Above, a Google self-driving car maneuvers through the streets of Washington, D.C. on May 14, 2012. The system, based on a modified Toyota Prius, combines information gathered from Google Street View with artificial intelligence software that reads inputs from video cameras inside the car, a Light Detection And Ranging (LIDAR) sensor on top of the vehicle, radar sensors on the front of the vehicle, and a position sensor attached to one of the rear wheels that helps locate the car's position on the map. Google expects that the increased accuracy of its automated driving system could help reduce the number of traffic-related injuries and deaths, while using energy and space on roadways more efficiently.