What is an electric car?

* What are electric cars?* How do they work?* What can you buy now?...

What is an electric car?

An electric car is driven by an electric motor, rather than a conventional petrol or diesel engine.

You might think that electric cars are a new thing, but they've been around since the earliest days of automotive history. However, they fell out of favour once petrol-powered cars became cheaper and people wanted to drive longer distances.

Is it all a gimmick?
As technology advances, environmental concerns become more important and as governments give incentives for low-emission cars, electric power is becoming a realistic prospect again.

The attraction is obvious: zero exhaust emissions and the potential financial advantages of lower rates of tax and cheaper 'fuel'.

In London, for instance, electric cars are becoming an increasingly common sight, because they are exempt from paying the Congestion Charge.

Are they real cars?
The likes of the Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet Volt prove that there's an electric-powered future for even the most mainstream of family hatchbacks with levels of equipment, comfort and safety that are competitive with more conventional cars.

However, there are sportier and less conventional alternatives out there as well. The Tesla Roadster, for example, has shown that a genuine sports car can be electric-powered, while the two-seater Renault Twizy is more quadricycle than a car

Naturally, there are still the issues of how the power that they use is produced you might charge an electric car from power generated by a fossil-fuel burning power station, for example but a car with zero tailpipe emissions is obviously a good thing for local air quality.