With gas prices climbing toward four dollars a gallon, plug-in electric cars are the fastest-growing segment of the alternative-powered vehicle market and several of the energy-efficient machines will be featured during Food Lion AutoFair April 3-6 at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

No electric vehicle company has more variety in its product lineup than Hybrid Technologies which will be displaying the exotic LiV Rush sports car and several other electric vehicles produced at the company's headquarters in Mooresville, N.C.

As America entered the 21st century, political, financial and environmental factors provided the market incentive to develop cars with immensely improved fuel efficiency or powerplants that required no petroleum products. Hybrid Technologies was in perfect position to ride this new wave of enthusiasm for mass-produced, zero-emissions products.

Founded in 2000, the company's goal was to develop and manufacture lithium-based rechargeable battery systems for everything from scooters and mopeds to passenger cars and even homes.

NASA pioneered making batteries from lithium-the element with the lightest weight and highest specific heat of any metal-but several innovations by Hybrid Technologies made it a feasible, fast-charging energy storage medium for electric vehicles.

Late in 2005 the Las Vegas-based company established its manufacturing facility in Mooresville's Lakeside Park, the home of many NASCAR teams and motorsports industry support services.

Engineers began converting production cars such as Chrysler's PT Cruiser, BMW's Mini Cooper, Daimler-Benz's smart fortwo and Toyota's Yaris to zero-emissions vehicles that can fully recharge from a standard wall outlet in six to eight hours and cruise at Interstate speeds for 100 to 120 miles. The company's electric two-wheelers include a moped-based model, a stylish scooter that can cover 40 miles after a three-hour charge and several full-size motorcycles.

The cost of a lithium conversion adds a premium to the car's sticker price, but the savings in fuel and maintenance are substantial. For example, a gas-powered Mini Cooper gets 32 miles per gallon (combined city/highway), according to the EPA. Traveling 120 miles requires 3.75 gallons of gas, which today costs around $11.25. To cover that same distance in the Hybrid Technologies version of the Mini costs just more than $2, and there is never any expense for oil changes or other powertrain maintenance. There is also no sacrifice in creature comforts or safety features, as all of the conversions retain air conditioning, a heater, full factory lighting and stereo equipment.

With its stable of attractive electric vehicles, Hybrid Technologies' products receive a lot of attention every time gas prices creep up. The New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission is evaluating the company's PT Cruiser (sold to the public as the LiV Surge) for cab use; actor George Clooney took delivery of a lithium-powered smart car (the LiV

Dash) for use at his Italian villa; Sam's Club offered the company's Mini Cooper (the LiV Flash) through its Source catalog; and the Kennedy Space Center currently has several Hybrid Technologies models in its fleet, including an electric military all-terrain vehicle.

The top of the electric vehicle food chain is the company's LiV Rush, an exotic sports car whose electric motors generate the equivalent of 170 foot-pounds of torque. Its lightweight roadster body looks like a cross between a Ferrari and a Lotus. Zero-to-60 mph is achieved in 5.9 seconds, with a top speed of 120 mph and a 100-mile range. At 158 inches bumper to bumper, it is one inch longer than a Mazda Miata and its 2,300-pound curb weight is 100 pounds less than the Miata. Like the other LiV products, the Rush can fully recharge while its owner sleeps, using nothing more than a 110- or 220-volt AC outlet.

The concept of powering an automobile by means other than the combustion of gasoline actually goes back to the birth of the auto industry.

Records indicate there were nearly 300 electric car manufacturers in the United States prior to World War II. Electric cars with names such as Detroit, Edison and Baker were especially popular in cities among well-to-do ladies because they were so easy to drive and maintain, but most of these companies were out of business by the mid-1920s.

So began the country's 50-year love affair with cheap, convenient fossil fuels.

Several energy crises and a growing awareness of the automobile's environmental impact revived interest in electric vehicles in the mid-1970s, but the few buyers complained that those early cars were slow, unattractive, limited in driving range and expensive to maintain when the initial battery pack needed replacing.

Continued technological advances and growing concerns about the environment have combined to put electric vehicles in today's automotive spotlight as the world's focus progressively moves toward green energy.

To see how going green has never been more fun, convenient or stylish visit the Hybrid Technologies display in the 3M Car Care Garage during the April 3-6 Food Lion AutoFair at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

The spring Food Lion AutoFair annually attracts more than 160,000 visitors. It features more than 50 car club displays; more than 10,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia; and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., on Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults while children 12 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

For information, contact the Lowe's Motor Speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit online.