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Electric cars finally come into their own

2013 Tesla Model S — Vehicle MSRP after $7,500 credit: $60,770; MPGe c/h/combined: 94/97/94; Range in miles: 139; Cost per 25 miles: $1.39; Recharge (220 volt): 7 hours*; Horsepower: 302; Availability: 32 U.S. stores and the Internet. *Optional fast-charging systems can drastically reduce charge time. (Tesla)
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The auto industry has danced around the idea of electric cars for more than a century.

You can see some of the first incarnations this weekend at the annual Concours d’Elegance of America at St. John’s in Plymouth, where an 1899 prototype Oldsmobile electric will be on display.

It survived a 1901 factory fire, only because company founder Ransom Eli Olds liked driving it so much, he had it parked safely at home.

Over the years, the whir of small, short-range electric vehicles became common in factories and at golf courses, but by 1999 the road-going electric car appeared to run completely out of juice when General Motors canceled the controversial EV1.

But now, with high gas prices, government fuel economy regulations and environmental and other concerns, electric vehicles are making their way to dealer showrooms. There have never been so many to choose from. Almost every major automaker sells a battery-electric car.

I’ve driven most of the big car company pure electrics on the U.S. market, everything from the exotic Tesla Model S to the golf kart-like Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Most offer a practical and affordable answer to the less-than-40-mile commute of most Americans.

Because they aren’t a novelty anymore, I’ll review them in the future as legitimate passenger cars. But, for now, let me offer an overview of what’s out there and what consumers can expect to find among the assortment.

Electric cars come in all sizes, from micro-compact to full size. Most have 60 to 80 miles of battery life. Recharging usually is done overnight at home, but new fast-charging options can complete an 80 percent charge in as little as 20 minutes — the time it takes to order fast food.

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