Just like a lot of other technology that has recently been introduced to market vehicles, electric drivetrains aren't really all that new. Jay Leno compares two electric cars from his own collection: a 1909 Baker Electric "Horseless Coach" and a brand new Electric Ford Focus. His verdict? "Exactly the same." That is, with a few differences.  The bottom line is, you have two cars running purely on electric motors powered by batteries.  They make no noise (other than the noted tire squealing), no emissions, and will go a respectable distance between charges.  Take a look at his comparison.Obvious improvements aside, new electric powered cars aren't really a ground breaking development.  In the beginning, electric cars were built for convenience, compared to early gas powered coaches.  In particular, women found them attractive because they didn't need to be cranked to start.  This was a potentially dangerous task requiring a strong arm.  Leno comments on the automatic starter for gas engines being partially responsible for killing off the first generation of electric cars.

He also points out the fact that the Baker Electric coach has electric lighting.  At the time, gas-powered coaches would have been equipped with gas lanterns for lighting.  Much like the electric cars did 100 years ago, the current generation of plug-ins is offering us lots of nifty high-tech features.

One of the highlights of the old car is its range.  Although its speed tops out well below 30mph, it boasts a range of nearly 100 miles.  New York City, at the time, supposedly had a network of charging stations for these electric cars, commonly used as taxis.

History shows us that it's possible (on a smaller scale, of course) to develop a plug-in friendly world where average people do their traveling via battery power.  While zipping around on his miniature road course in Ford's new electric Focus, the comedian comments on the similarities of the two cars, past and present.  At their roots, the two cars really aren't all that different, and Leno believes electric cars are "the future".

He's not the only one betting on the future of the plug-in.  Purely electric cars are not far from a return to the roads of America.  Like any other alternative vehicles, their success depends partially on the establishment of fueling, or charging networks.  People aren't afraid to get into gasoline cars and take long trips, because they know they'll find plenty of gas stations on the way.  As charging centers begin to pop up across the nation, expect to see more of these cars settling in among the millions of daily commuters and road-trippers.

[Jay Leno via youtube]