DETROIT — The green car wars have started.
After years of anticipation, major automakers are setting their electric vehicles loose on the market, leaving consumers to figure out whether the cars will get them where they want to go.
There's the Chevrolet Volt with its 25 to 50 miles of electric driving and unlimited gasoline range, due to start arriving in customers' driveways late this month. There's the Nissan Leaf with about 100 miles of electric power. In 2011, Ford plans to offer the Focus electric car, with a targeted range of 100 miles.
But for some customers, a lower-priced diesel or a traditional gas-electric hybrid might make more sense, both for driving styles and pocketbooks.
"If you're a long-distance, highway driver every day, a hybrid might be a better option," said Chelsea Sexton, an electric-vehicle enthusiast since her days helping customers lease GM's EV1. "It really is a murky playground."
So which automakers' model will win?
That may not matter.
"Why should it?" Carlos Tavares, executive vice president of Nissan, told the Detroit Free Press last week. "Each company has a different strategy. Each company is using its own technology. Each company is trying to bring that vehicle within a certain marketing umbrella. . . . I can tell you, there is a lot of room."
That's assuming enough demand, which is up for debate.
Tavares said electric vehicles will account for 10 percent of all cars sold globally by 2020. But research firm J.D. Power and Associates says the higher cost of electric vehicles, their limited range and the lack of a public recharging infrastructure will hold electric and hybrid vehicle sales to only 7.4 percent.
Meanwhile, standard gasoline engines are undergoing rapid advancements, with technologies that improve air flow, directly inject gas into the engine and use turbochargers.
Free Press auto critic Mark Phelan notes there's just a $4 cost difference on a trip from Detroit to Chicago in a variety of cars with different powertrains, from a Ford Fiesta to a Chevy Volt to a Volkswagen Jetta TDI diesel. All cost about $16 to $20.