The unveiling of the new Tesla Model S seems to have signaled the beginning of a new round of electric and hybrid vehicle announcements.

Tesla Model S
Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S is an electric sedan that Tesla says will carry seven passengers and provide more cargo space than any other sedan currently on the market. The reason for the large cargo space is the lack of gears and the location of the battery pack under the floor, leaving space under the bonnet.

The battery pack is designed to be swapped in less time than it would take to fill a petrol tank. Alternatively, the onboard charger allows the battery to be recharged from any standard 120, 240 or 480 volt outlet. Fully charging at a 240 volt outlet takes about four hours but a “quickcharge” can be done in 45 minutes. It has a range of up to 480 kilometres on a full charge, depending on battery options.

The price of the Model S is expected to be $US49,900 (after a $US7,500 tax credit), which is half the price of the original Tesla Roadster. Full production is planned for 2011.

Meanwhile, Toyota’s new Prius, which is scheduled to go on sale in Australia in July, has been undergoing road test in Europe and America. Despite being slightly bigger and slightly faster than the current model, the new Prius is more fuel efficient, achieving 3.9 litres per 100 kilometres in European testing. American reviewers have found that far better fuel economy can be achieved with a “pulse and glide” driving technique (revving the engine to a maximum speed and then allowing it to coast) but at the cost of car-sick passengers 😕 .

The new Honda Insight hybrid achieves even better fuel economy of 5.9 litres per 100 kilometres without discomforting passengers. Toyota says that its planned new hybrid based on the Yaris will compete directly with the smaller Honda Insight.

Another manufacturer entering the electric car field is Malaysia’s Proton which has entered into a joint venture with Detroit Electric to manufacture electric cars based on the Proton Persona model. (Despite its name, Detroit Electric is a a Dutch company.)

While the fate of General Motors, and its Chevy Volt, hangs in the balance, its European subsidiaries, Opel and Vauxhall, are both seeking loan guarantees from their respective governments with plans to produce a version of the Volt (called the Ampera) based on the Vauxhall/Opel/Holden Astra.