There was a time not long ago when electric cars were futuristic, strange and mystifying vehicles that occasionally inspired conspiracy theories. They were often relegated to the "quirky ideas" bin. Times have certainly changed, and looking through the list below, electric cars clearly seem to be headed for the mainstream.

Far from quirky concepts, most modern electric cars are practical and meant for mass consumption. In fact, they're pretty much normal cars - with the exception of having to plug them in. But even that's becoming more and more accepted as friends, or friends of friends, buy them and begin to share feedback.

They may not be huge sellers until the technology improves or the price of gas goes up dramatically, but right now they provide a great alternative for early adopters willing to try something different. So if you're thinking of looking for a way to drive on electricity and rid yourself of the gas pump, it may be just about the right time to start.

All of the cars below qualify for a federal tax credit of $7,500 and a variety of state incentives (some as much as $5,000), so when calculating the final price you should determine your state's credits and make the appropriate deductions from the base MSRP.

Take a look at the following list (in alphabetical order) and see if any of them whet your whistle.

2012 Chevrolet Volt

Type: Plug-in Hybrid

Base MSRP: $39,995

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 94 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): 35 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): 37 MPG

The world's first modern, mass-market, relatively affordable, plug-in hybrid car. An amazing feat of engineering, but it only seats four. Chevy has already sold more than 8,000 of them.

2012 Ford Focus Electric

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $39,995

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 90 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 100 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

It looks like a new Ford Focus hatchback, but has an electric motor and a plug instead of a gas engine and emissions equipment. Cargo space is smaller due to the batteries being located in the hatch space, but a fancier gauge cluster helps get your head in the electric driving game.

2012 Ford Transit Connect Electric

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $65,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 62 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 56 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

The first electric vehicle from Ford is actually the product of a collaboration between Ford and Azure Dynamics. Ford sends Azure empty Transit Connect shells and Azure modifies them with electric drivetrains. These vehicles are intended for the commercial market, to be used as delivery or work vans.

2012 Fisker Karma

Type: Plug-in Hybrid

Base MSRP: $103,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 52 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 32 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): 20 MPG

A performance luxury plug-in hybrid sedan created by legendary car designer Henrik Fisker. The Karma is the first car from start-up Fisker Automotive, but will be followed by a series of ever more affordable vehicles - if Fisker can successfully navigate the startup path.

2012 Honda Fit EV

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $36,625; lease only for $399 per month

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 90 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 120 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

It's the same small-but-functional Honda Fit hatchback with an electric motor and a plug. Only a few thousand will be built and leased so Honda can collect feedback from drivers; there will be no option to buy it at the end of the lease.

2012 Mitsubishi i

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $29,125

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 112 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 62 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

Based on a Japanese Kei (very small) car platform, the Mitsubishi i has been lengthened and widened for American needs. It's the least expensive all-electric car you can buy in the U.S., but it only seats four.

2012 Nissan Leaf

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $35,200

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 99 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 73 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas):N/A

The world's first modern, mass market, relatively affordable, five passenger, all-electric car. With more than 10,000 already sold in the U.S., the Nissan Leaf has already outpaced the competition.

2012 Smart ED

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: Lease only, $599 per month

Fuel Economy (on electricity): 87 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 63 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

As the first all-electric car from Smart/Mercedes, the Smart ED (Electric Drive) is a Smart ForTwo with batteries and a plug. Only 250 of them are available for a closed-end lease-at the relatively steep price of $599 per month.

2012 Toyota Prius Plug-In

Type: Plug-in Hybrid

Base MSRP: $32,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely 95 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 13 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): 49 MPG

The first plug-in vehicle built by Toyota. It's a regular Prius with a bigger battery and a plug. The bigger battery allows it to be driven in all-electric mode for 13 miles on a full charge before turning back into a regular Prius.

2013 Ford C-Max Energi

Type: Plug-in Hybrid

Base MSRP: Unknown, likely $35,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 80 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Unknown, likely 30 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): Unknown, likely 40 MPG

Expected Launch: Late 2012

Based on the 5-passenger C-Max platform that is already popular in Europe. In the U.S., the C-Max will only be sold as a conventional hybrid or this plug-in hybrid "Energi" model. Targeted for a new segment known as multi-activity vehicles.

2013 Ford Fusion Energi

Type: Plug-in Hybrid

Base MSRP: Unknown, likely $35,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 80 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Unknown, likely 30 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): Unknown, likely more than 40 MPG

Expected Launch: Late 2012

The 2013 Ford Fusion will have a diverse variety of drivetrain options, including conventional gas, turbocharged, hybrid and this "Energi" model (a plug-in hybrid). If the price can be kept down, this will be a compelling vehicle.

2013 Tesla Model S

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: $57,400

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 80 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Approx. 160 miles with 40 kWh option, up to 300 miles with 85 kWh option

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

Expected Launch: July 2012

The second car from startup Tesla Motors. The Model S is a sexy-looking, all-electric, performance, luxury sedan. Most of the first year's run is already sold out.

2013 Tesla Model X

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: Unknown, likely $65,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 70 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Unknown, likely 200 miles with 60 kWh option, up to 285 miles with 85 kWh option

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

Expected Launch: Late 2013

The third vehicle from Tesla. Based on the same platform as the Model S, only bigger and seats 7 instead of 5. The Model X will also have dual electric motor AWD. All the pieces are there to make this compelling, but much like Fisker, Tesla will need to navigate the startup waters to bring it to market without going under.

2013 Toyota RAV4 EV

Type: Fully Electric

Base MSRP: Unknown, could be as high as $45,000

Fuel Economy (on electricity): Unknown, likely more than 60 MPGe

Electric Range (Full Charge): Unknown, likely around 100 miles

Fuel Economy (on gas): N/A

Expected Launch: Summer 2012

As the second electric car from Toyota, the RAV4 EV is actually the product of a collaboration between Toyota and Tesla. The relationship is much like Ford's collaboration with Azure on the Transit Connect Electric: Tesla will install electric drivetrains in empty RAV4 shells. The RAV4 EV will be sold in limited quantities.

author photo

Nick Chambers is a "next generation" car enthusiast, recognized for his green automotive coverage in Gas 2.0, The New York Times, Popular Mechanics, HybridCars.com and PluginCars.com. In addition, he's been syndicated in Matter Network, AP and Reuters.

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