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Five electric cars that will change the world in 2012

There are plenty of interesting electric cars on the road today, but none of them will hold a candle to the ones we're expecting in 2012.

There are plenty of hugely interesting electric cars on the road today -- our list of the finest 10 we've encountered is testament to that. But come 2012, every single one of them will be made to look like Fred Flintstone's foot-powered rock-mobile by a new generation of electric vehicles (EVs).

Once 2011 crawls its sorry backside to the confines of history, we'll bear witness to a wealth of incredible electric cars that are more efficient, affordable and fun than their predecessors.

To give you a taste of what's to come, we've put together a list of EVs that we think will help banish those smoke-belching petrol and diesel monstrosities for good, starting with the Vauxhall Ampera. 

Vauxhall Ampera

The Ampera, aka the Chevy Volt, is an electric car with a difference. Referred to as a range-extended electric vehicle, it runs mostly on a set of lithium-ion batteries, which you charge from an ordinary socket at home.

Unlike ordinary electric cars, however, these batteries won't discharge and leave you stranded because they're constantly being augmented by a petrol engine that serves as a generator.

It provides the best of both petrol and electrically powered worlds. On the one hand, hippies and those that can't afford petrol can run the Ampera on electric power for the first 35 miles of driving. On the other, those of us who need to travel further than just the office and back can rest assured there's always a tankful of petrol on standby that can power the Ampera for well over 300 miles.

In all, the Ampera promises fuel economy of 175mpg, CO2 emissions of 40g/km and little compromise in driving dynamics. It'll do 0-60mph in 9 seconds and achieve a 100mph top speed.

Release date: Early 2012
Price: £33,995 (£28,995 after government grant)

Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid

The Prius has long been a byword for eco-friendly future motoring. The next generation will be even more appealing -- so appealing, in fact, that you might actually consider being seen in one. That, friends, is because the next generation of Prius -- several models are planned -- will be a plug-in hybrid.

The car has a far larger battery pack than the original Prius hybrid. It can operate in electric-only mode for up to 13 miles -- a big improvement on the previous model's 1.5-mile EV range. You simply plug it into an ordinary wall outlet and within 90 minutes -- or less if the battery isn't flat -- you're good to go.

The Prius Plug-in Hybrid uses similar hybrid technology to its predecessor. Once the battery is exhausted, you can expect its 1.8-litre Atkinson cycle petrol engine to start helping out. According to Toyota, it'll deliver CO2 emissions of just 49g/km and 134.5mpg on the combined cycle. That is an impressive 30g/km less and 62.1mpg more than the current car.

Release date: Summer 2012
Price: £31,000 (£26,000 after government grant)

Tesla Model S

We're all aware of the Tesla Roadster -- the electric supercar that's loathed by Top Gear and loved by environment-hugging green freaks. It's a great car, but it won't be anywhere near as important as the Model S.

This will be the first fully electric premium saloon and will go head-to-head with the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E Class. Under its gorgeous exterior, the Model S will be powered by a choice of battery packs offering either 160-mile, 230-mile or 300-mile ranges, which will be enough to banish range anxiety (or at least tuck it away in a distant corner for a bloody long time).

Although the Model S is bigger, heavier and more practical than the Roadster, it'll still be incredibly sporty. Tesla promises a 0-60mph time of 4.5 seconds on the top model; a 130mph top speed; and -- thanks to automatically adaptive air suspension and near 50-50 front-to-rear weight distribution -- the agility of a prized whippet.

Throw in a ginormous 17-inch dash-mounted display with a next-gen sat-nav system and Internet access, and you have a package that might make consumers think their next luxury saloon should be an electric one.

Release date: Summer 2012
Price: $57,400 (£36,450)

Renault Fluence ZE


The Fluence ZE isn't as exciting to look at as the Model S, but it'll likely have an even bigger effect on the future of motoring, and for several reasons. Firstly, it's cheap -- its basic purchase price will be in the region of £22,850, which reduces to a mere £17,850 after government subsidies. That's lower than the Nissan Leaf.

Why so cheap? Because the Fluence ZE doesn't come with batteries included. If you buy the car you'll be asked to lease batteries, and the price of the lease will be dependant on your projected mileage and the length of the contract. A 12-month 6,000-mile contract will cost £86 per month, while a 60-month contract with the same mileage will cost £70. Going over your limit will set you back 4p per mile, but all contracts include emergency breakdown, which even covers you for running out of battery power.

If the thought of not owning the battery worries you then consider this: the Fluence will likely have stronger resale values than rival electric cars because its next owner needn't worry about the condition of the battery after a few years of use. When they buy the car, they can lease their own battery pack, which will come with a full warranty.

Release date: Summer 2012
Price: $57,4000 (£36,450)

Fisker Karma

Of all the electric cars destined for arrival in 2012 and beyond, none are quite as exciting to behold as the Fisker Karma. The biggest feather in its cap is its looks -- it's absolutely beautiful. That is, if your idea of beauty is a terrifying electrified serpent on wheels.

Below its sinister exterior, the Karma uses a range-extending electric propulsion system. Two electric motors and a 20kWh battery pack drive each of the rear wheels for up to 50 miles, which should be enough for the daily commute and the vast majority of city dwellers' journeys.

Should you need to go further -- for that annual trip to see relatives outside the city, perhaps -- a 2-litre direct injection turbo-charged petrol engine is on hand to power a generator that produces yet more electricity, for a total range of 300 miles.

The figures produced by this setup are sensational to say the least. In sport mode, the Karma will achieve a sub-6 second 0-60mph sprint time and a 143mph top speed. That should be enough to deliver plenty of thrills. Despite this terrifying performance, Fisker claims the Karma will return 118mpg and emit CO2 at a rate of just 83g/km.

We think you'll agree that this car, and its electrified brethren, look set to shake up the entire automotive industry. You'd better start saving those pennies.

Release date: 2012
Price: £80,000