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Electric cars charging up

The race is on among the world's auto companies to make electric cars go farther on a single charge, bring the price down to compete with gas-powered vehicles, and give drivers more places to recharge them than just the family garage.

Electric is the big buzz at the 63rd Frankfurt Auto Show this week, and nearly every major automaker has at least one on display.

Renault introduced no fewer than four electric models, while Tesla, the only company producing and selling purely electric cars, handed over the keys to its 700th all-electric vehicle, a blue Roadster Sport, to a German buyer at the show.

If the models unveiled Tuesday are any indication, the notion of electric cars as small, stunted boxes with little range is about to be junked.

"People have realized that ... electric vehicles don't have to be golf carts," said Diarmuid O'Connell, vice president of business development for Tesla Motors Inc. "They don't have to be anemic little putt-putts."

The company's sleek, two-seat Roadster - which in the US sells for $101,500 ($NZ146,000) - has a range of 393km on one charge. Its planned Model S, which will seat seven and has a 483-km range, will go for $49,900 ($NZ71,800).

Others automakers, including BMW, General Motors and Daimler, are also developing electric-powered vehicles, including hybrid cars that boast a small gas or diesel engine backed up with an electrical motor, and say the prices will drop as bulky batteries become smaller, faster to charge and easier to replace.

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