Sean O'Grady: Only time can dispel the charges against electric cars

Anyone watching a late 1980s movie nowadays is reduced to giggles when they spot someone using a "mobile" phone the size of a cornflakes packet. Perhaps in 15 years' time we will look back at today's electric vehicles with the same bemused nostalgia. Mobile phones have come an astonishing distance in two decades and the same will happen with the electric car. Mainstream companies such as General Motors, Renault-Nissan and BMW are investing in it. It is the greenest way to get around – especially if the electricity is from renewables.

Right now, however, an electric car is not a promising proposition as sole family transport. They are too small, slow (50mph tops)and expensive. Most have a range of about 40 miles. At £8,000 for the best-selling G-Wiz they make sense thanks to very low running costs, tax breaks and exemption from the London congestion charge. For £90,000 you can have a Tesla electric roadster with a range of 220 miles and acceleration to leave a Lamborghini for dead.

What will the electric car of five, 10, 15 years be like? The Chevrolet Volt, probably. If General Motors survives, this "proper" car will be on sale in 2011. Today's "hybrids", such as the Toyota Prius, allow the internal combustion engine to do most of the work. The Volt and its GM cousin the Vauxhall Ampera rely mostly on electric motors to move them and look presentable.

The Volt has a modest range – 40 miles. Less space but more range can be found in the Mini E, now on trial. It only has two seats but it's fairly normal: 0 to 62 mph in 8.5 seconds and a range of 150miles. It has a top speed of 95mph.

For the foreseeable future the electric car will force you to make compromises but they are becoming less onerous. It has taken a couple of decades to make the mobile phone mobile. Like driving a G-Wiz, you have to be patient.