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New year could spark the electric revolution.

Byline: Mike Torpey

CAR manufacturers are ready to raise the voltage on a brave new world of electric motoring - and 2011 will herald the first major flick of the switch.

Leading the way is the world's first mass produced electric car, the Nissan Leaf, which goes on sale in March for a princely pounds 23,950 including the Government's now-confirmed pounds 5,000 subsidy for electric vehicles.

People aren't going to latch on to cars like the Leaf at a stroke. In fact Nissan reckons that in 10 years' time around 90% of cars will still be powered by traditional engines.

But the change is coming and Nissan, along with partner Renault, is ploughing pounds 3bn into a global vision that will see the Leaf - currently built in Japan - and its lithium ion batteries produced in the UK at Sunderland from 2013.

Leaf buyers will have the option of charging their car at home or using a roadside charging point to top up with enough juice to cover 100 miles or seven hours of use for a cost of about pounds 2 a time.

Buying outright isn't the plan for another electric arrival. Citroen's aptly named C-ZERO - zero fuel consumption, zero CO2 emissions and zero engine noise - will instead be available for lease at pounds 415 a month over four years/40,000 miles, including warranty, servicing and maintenance.

While the Leaf - recently voted European Car of the Year 2011 - is a high-spec family-size model, the C-ZERO is a four-seater compact city car with a tight turning circle and 93-mile range. It has leisurely acceleration of 0-62mph in 15.9 seconds. It also arrives early in the year.

Mitsubishi unleashed its own electric revolution last summer when the i-MiEV hit Japanese streets and the company has set prices for UK models at pounds 23,990 including the subsidy.

It will be joined by the Peugeot i0n, available like the Citroen on a four-year lease contract, the smart fortwo electric drive micro model and the Tata Vista.

Transport Secretary Philip Hammond says: "Government action to support affordable vehicles and more local charging points means we are on the threshold of an exciting green revolution - 2011 could be remembered as the year the electric car took off."

On the conventional front there's a wealth of new vehicles about to hit the streets including the next generation Ford Focus.

More than 10 million Focus models have been sold since the original launch in 1998 and the latest models will include a range of advanced technologies such as low speed safety system, active park assist, lane keeping aid and torque control.

Initially available in five-door hatchback and estate body styles, there will be three-door and coupe/cabriolet models available later as well as a high-powered ST version.

The engine range will include a new 1.6-litre Ford EcoBoost petrol unit as well as updated 2.0-litre Duratorq TDCi diesels.

While a revamped Honda Jazz and re-designed Vauxhall Corsa will whet the appetite of supermini fans, the most interesting small car will come from a luxury performance manufacturer. It's the new Aston Martin Cygnet, a two-door city slicker being built at the company's Gaydon plant and based on the Toyota iQ.

It is the eighth major production car Aston Martin has introduced at its Warwickshire factory since 2004, underlining company's commitment to British manufacturing. Also built in Britain, at the Halewood plant in Liverpool, is the most talked about new car of the coming year - the Range Rover Evoque.

Based on the LRX concept and available in both three and five-door versions, the Evoque goes on sale next summer when it will be available with a new range of petrol and diesel engines - a pair of 2.0-litre diesels and a 2.0-litre petrol - with stop-start facility.

Lovers of performance cars will have two much-awaited speed machines to drool over.

First up in the spring is the McLaren MP4-12C and those able to shell out pounds 168,500 will get the only car of its type to have a carbon chassis, be designed and developed in a Formula 1 factory and offer a whopping 600bhp from a 3.8-litre engine. Double the price tag and there's the rear-wheel drive Lexus LFA, powered by a bespoke 552bhp 4.8-litre V10 engine, matched to a rear-mounted six-speed sequential automatic transmission. It's good for 200mph-plus.

Back down to earth, Citroen's new C4 compact family car will cost from pounds 15,595, Toyota has a new Verso-S model - less than four metres long but with cabin and luggage space to rival a family hatchback - and Kia has high hopes for its new Optima that will also be available with a hybrid powertrain.

There's no let-up for Volkswagen, who continue the pace of a busy 2010 with a new Passat saloon and estate, a now larger Jetta model as well as a revised Eos, which remains the only vehicle of its kind to feature a five-piece metal folding hard top complete with an integrated glass sunroof.

And Peugeot's stylish new 508 will include eight engine and gearbox choices, two body styles and Stop & Start technology when it arrives in the spring.

Saab, now under Dutch ownership, enter the expanding crossover arena for the first time with the eyecatching 9-4X model and Korean marque SsangYong is back after a five-year absence from Britain with a more rugged-looking Korando model.

Add the ice cool looks of the latest BMW 6-Series Convertible, due in March, and there's something for everyone.

CAPTION(S):

EAGERLY AWAITED The Range Rover Evoque, left, is the most talked about car of the coming year. McLaren's MP4-12C will have a price tag of pounds 168,500 STYLISH OFFERING Peugeot's 508 will come with eight engine and gearbox choices as well as two body styles. It will be on sale from the spring
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:973
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