'Vroom' Without The Fume

Daimler-Chrysler unveiled its latest entry in the race to build a practical electric car Wednesday, reports CBS News Correspondent Eric Engberg.

Called the NECAR 4 - New Electric Car 4 -, the zero-emission, fuel-cell vehicle is the first passenger car of its kind in the U.S.

The NECAR 4 is powered by liquid hydrogen, which is ultimately converted into electricity. The only aftereffect of the process is the release of water vapor, making it an attractive transportation alternative in the battle against air pollution. Best of all, unlike other electric cars, there's no need to plug it in.

"We have a completely functional vehicle, capable of carrying five people," says Bernard Robertson, the Senior Vice President for Engineering Technologies at Daimler-Chrysler. "This vehicle uses methanol, a liquid similar to gasoline and Â… when you reform it, you get hydrogen, which you put into the fuel cell."

Thanks to millions of dollars funneled into research and development, the car features a breakthrough in fuel-cell technology. The once enormous fuel cells have been shrunk to a practical size, allowing for more passenger and storage room.

"One of the major advances, we think, is the miniaturization of all hardware," Robertson continues. "From the customer's point of view, it is a practical, usable vehicle. The biggest challenge is to get the cost down so everyone can afford it."

The car is scheduled to make its debut commercially by the year 2004. With traveling at speeds of up to 90 miles-per-hour, Daimler-Chrysler says the NECAR 4 is about 50 percent more efficient than its gasoline counterparts.