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The electric car has come of age and thats down to the Renault-Nissan Alliance. While other manufacturers are still making plans and running trials, Renault and Nissan have beaten them to the punch with proper electric cars youll actually be able to buy and run by this time next year. Youll want one, too.

Cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Fluence will change peoples perceptions of electric motoring for good. The memories of small, oddball vehicles with limited space, range and safety will be history.

According to Renault and Nissan, electric cars can be stylish, safe and have room for all the family. They can even be fun. Weve already driven the production version of the Leaf, and itll certainly bring a smile to your face. Performance is strong and the car handles securely, but the most enjoyment comes from knowing whats coming out of the tailpipe precisely nothing. In fact, there is no tailpipe!

The new order
There are plenty of things well have to get used to with electric cars. Their range will limit their appeal for many (although, if were honest, most of us could live with a vehicle that can cover 100 miles on a single charge). Well also have to get used to the gentle whirring of an electric motor rather than the rumble of a petrol or diesel engine, and will have to build relationships with power suppliers and charging points rather than fuel companies and filling stations.

Other than that, things will be pretty much as is: the controls are largely the same and the cars are no miracle cure for congestion, but fewer moving parts mean they are likely to be more reliable.

We cant ignore question marks over the batteries how long theyll last, who owns them and their cost or the small number of charging points. All those issues will be addressed in due course, however, especially with local councils now committing to a network of places to plug in.

Renault's elegant Fluence**Cash incentives**
While were on the subject of government, the treasury has confirmed that the 250 million set aside for grants to make electric cars more affordable has been approved for this financial year. As we write, we dont know for sure whether that arrangement will continue beyond 2010, but with the Nissan Leafs list price standing at 28,350, a 5000 contribution towards that from the Government makes it more appealing. Lets hope Westminster sees the benefit of continuing the scheme, otherwise youd better get in quick for a Leaf now.

The next few years will see a host of electric cars coming to market, but theyll all be playing catch-up. Especially when you see the other electric models Renault and Nissan already have in the pipeline from a workaday Kangoo van to the funky Twizy two-seater.

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