The Dirty Truth about Plug-In Hybrids

How green is that electric car? Depends on where you plug it in
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In the months after Nissan’s announcement last year that it would soon introduce the Leaf, the world’s first mass-market electric vehicle, the company embarked on a 24-city “zero-emission tour” to show off the technology. The Leaf’s electric motor draws its energy from a battery pack that plugs into an outlet in your garage. It has no engine, no gas tank and no tailpipe. And during the time the car is on the road, it is truly a zero-emission machine. But at night, in your garage, that battery pack must refill the energy lost to the day’s driving with fresh electrons culled from a nearby power plant. And zero emission it ain’t.

The Leaf should be the first all-electric car off the starting grid, but followers are whirring hot behind it. Chevrolet is introducing the Volt, an electric car supplemented with a small internal-combustion engine that keeps the battery charged. Ford will come out with an electric version of its Focus in 2011, followed by models from Toyota, Volvo, Audi and Hyundai.

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