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Electric cars
Dream: Plug-in cars will leapfrog General Motors and Chrysler ahead of Asian competitors.
Reality: Electric cars are pricey and unprofitable.

General Motors has heavily marketed its Chevrolet Volt plug-in car for years now. Actual market introduction is slated for next year.

The futuristic vehicle relies on advanced lithium-ion batteries. It will allow drivers to go up to 40 miles on electricity alone before a gasoline engine cranks up to generate electricity for further travel. The expected sticker price is close to $40,000, but federal tax credits could reduce the cost to the low-$30,000 range.

Chrysler, meanwhile, says it's working on a similar, but lower-cost, alternative. Chrysler's as-yet-unnamed products are supposed to share much of their underlying engineering with regular, gasoline-powered cars.

In reality, neither of these plans will yield big profits or particularly high sales numbers in either case. For the short term, these are marketing and public relations plays.

Impact: Profits from these programs will come in the distant future. GM has said it plans to continually roll out cost-saving improvements as soon as the Volt goes on sale to make it and related cars profitable as quickly as possible. For the time being, these programs are important for their public relations and marketing benefits.

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Last updated February 17 2009: 6:58 PM ET
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