Japanese and American manufacturers are working hard to release a new generation of all-electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles over the next couple of years. European manufacturers have been reluctant in the past to embrace electric propulsion technology, but in light of tough new emissions standards and soaring fuel prices their initial unwillingness is starting to change.

Mitsubishi will reportedly launch the first mass-produced electric vehicle next year in the form of the new i-MiEV, and both Toyota and General Motors have been vocal about being first to market with their respective plug-in hybrids.

Daimler is one of the most active in this field, confirming it will be one of the first carmakers with a hybrid vehicle on the market powered by lithium-ion batteries. Daimler will launch its S400 Hybrid next year with the advanced battery technology and will follow this up in 2010 with an electric version of its Smart minicar. The company also is considering electric versions of Mercedes-Benz A- and B-class cars, reports Automotive News.

BMW earlier this month confirmed plans for a fleet of electric Minis and has also set up its ‘Project i’ think tank to come with new ideas for future powertrains.

The French, too, are playing an active role in the development of electric vehicle technology. PSA Peugeot-Citroen, in partnership with Mitsubishi, said it aims to produce electric models in two years, and Renault together with Nissan plans to sell electric cars in parts of Europe by 2011.

Suppliers are also getting in on the electric vehicle bandwagon, with companies like Bosch announcing plans to build lithium ion batteries and electric powertrains.

There are, however, major drawbacks in the race to develop widespread electric vehicles. Repair workshops and service centers all over the world will need to be trained properly and upgraded to be able to accommodate the new technology, and carmakers will need to change their plants as well. The toll widespread use of EVs could take on the electrical power supply grid is also another unknown factor.