Two years ago, the Nissan Leaf and the Chevrolet Volt debuted to much hype -- and lots of skepticism. Would Americans embrace these plug-ins? The verdict: Buyers are warming up to them, and sales are steady if not overwhelming.
But consumer acceptance isn't the only factor that is revving up EV production. California regulations requiring large carmakers to have zero-emission vehicles in their fleets kick in this year. So Toyota, Ford, Honda and GM are introducing new all-electric options for those looking to plug in to fuel up.
The best feature: an in-dash LED screen that offers coaching on how to conserve power. The worst: An oddly configured, cramped cargo space, where Ford dumps the battery pack. The price tag is $39,995 (a comparably equipped gas-engine Focus Titanium hatch costs $27,010).
-- The 2013 Honda Fit EV, which hit dealers' lots this summer in California and Oregon and will expand to the East Coast early next year, fares better. The compact hatch offers three drive modes, ranging from most efficient to sporty; all three are enjoyable, but Sport mode is flat-out fun. Like the Focus, the Fit charges in about three hours but, at 82 miles, ekes out a few more miles of range. More perks: The navigation system shows you your range on the map, which the Focus doesn't, and it has more rear legroom and cargo space. Honda will only be leasing the Fit EV, so it's hard to compare the price with other EVs. However, the priciest 2012 gas-engine Fit ($20,480) leases for about $375 a month for 36 months; the Fit EV will go for $389.
-- The 2012 Toyota RAV4 EV went on sale in late summer in California, with a hefty price tag of just over $50,000 (a top-of-the-line gas-engine model costs $29,460). The Chevrolet Spark EV ships next year, but GM has been tight-lipped on pricing.
The most exciting entry is the Tesla Model S luxury sedan. The base model, which debuts next spring, has a 160-mile range and starts at $57,400. The Signature models (300-mile range, starting at $95,400) are on sale now.
(Jessica Anderson is an associate editor at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. And for more on this and similar money topics, visit http://www.Kiplinger.com.)