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Electric Cars: The Race Within The Race To Win Drivers

AP

As we track the race to build the first mass market electric vehicle, there's an important race within the race that may be as important as who comes out with the first model in 2010. It's the battle to convince the public a particular model is THE next great car that will change the industry.

Call it the Prius Principle. Toyota's Prius was not the first hybrid, nor, you could argue, was it the best gas-electric car in terms of performance. Still, ask 90% of America about hybrids and Prius is the first thing they mention.

I bring this up because GM is now pushing to have its Chevy Volt rated as getting 100 mpg. If it happens, the designation will be a huge PR and marketing boon for GM. Over the weekend two neighbors said to me, "Can you believe GM's electric car will get 100 mpg?" That's exactly the reaction GM wants.

You can be sure Chrysler and Nissanwill also be pushing just as hard for that kind of public buzz as they move towards rolling out their electric cars. Heck, when we did the exclusive unveiling of the Chrysler electric models last week, there was a huge surge on line of people reading about the cars. And it went well beyond one day.

The point is the automakers know the public is itching to have a reliable, affordable electric car. And when the day comes that the first ones hit showrooms, you can bet GM would love to trot out the message, "Come drive the car that gets 100 mpg."

Questions? Comments? BehindTheWheel@cnbc.com

Autos