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Unlike GM, Chrysler touting all-electric cars

The Zeo runs purely on batteries--but it's a direction the other big automakers are not so keen about.

When you're No. 3, you've got to do something.

At the Detroit auto show this week, Chrysler showed off three green car concepts, including an all-electric one called the Zeo that will go from zero to sixty in 5.7 seconds and hit 130 miles per hour. The car can also go 240 miles on a single charge.

Many of the other major carmakers--Toyota, General Motors--are concentrating on plug-in hybrids and other types of alternative fuel cars far more than all-electric cars. Batteries cost a lot and don't have the energy density of liquid fuels, according to many. As a result, all-electrics could be a tougher sell. To date, most of the activity in all-electric cars has come from start-ups.

The all-electric Zeo. CNET Networks

But both Nissan and Chrysler are touting all-electric vehicles. It's probably no coincidence that the two also trail their main domestic competitors. Nissan wants to come out with an all-electric by 2011 and 2012. Chrysler, meanwhile, set up a group called Envi last year to explore and develop different types of electric cars.

Unlike Nissan, which is looking at electric town cars, Chrysler seems to be touting performance. The speeds and range of the Zeo rival the upcoming Tesla Roadster. The Zeo even has four seats and four doors, unlike the two-seater Roadster. The big difference, of course, is that the Zeo is a concept car and many of those never make it out of the convention. (Note the crazy doors.) The first Tesla Roadsters will hit the road soon.

Chrysler also showed off two "assisted" electric cars which contain small motors that recharge the battery pack while driving. These cars mostly run on batteries (which can also be recharged through a wall socket) but use a little gas so they can go farther before conking out. Some fully electric cars only go 120 or so miles before running out of juice. Assisted electric cars can go a few hundred.

A concept Jeep Renegade combines a lithium-ion battery and a clean diesel engine. The car gets the equivalent of 110 miles per gallon, when all the energy sources are considered, and can go 400 miles. The EcoVoyager, meanwhile, combines a hydrogen fuel cell and a lithium-ion battery, similar to Provoq, a concept Cadillac that GM unveiled at CES.