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December 5, 2008

Neil Young (yes, that Neil Young) envisions a time when the owners of formerly gas-guzzling land-yachts will be the masters of the electric-car universe. Not only will they be able to cruise the highways emissions-free in their huge hybrids, they'll come home at night, plug into the electric grid, and make a nice chunk of change by selling all their extra battery juice back to The Man.

Young's personal prototype is his own1959 Mark IV Lincoln Continental, which he's nicknamed the Linc Volt. The 2.5 ton, 19.5-foot-long convertible currently sports a 150-kilowatt electric motor that makes the equivalent of 500 hp, powering it to an average speed of 80 mph–and is being kitted out to run on biodiesel when the gas engine is needed.

Young has spent more than $100,000 of his own money on his "Thinkin' Lincoln," and hopes to win the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X Prize, which requires entrants to achieve the equivalent of 100 miles per gallon. The Linc Volt isn't even close to that milestone yet–but Young is undeterred. "A big SUV with a super efficient self-charging system would create enough power to support six homes," he writes. It's a tall order for a technology that's only halfway there; but no great innovator ever got anywhere without going all in.

Could it all be smoke and mirrors? Absolutely. The idea of a huge car with massive batteries functioning as both transportation and a home power-plant is the opposite of the usual plug-in-hybrid concept, which is all about squeezing a battery pack, a gas engine, three suitcases and a family of five into a four-door sedan. There are safety and disposal issues with a cruiser full of electric juice as well, as technical hurdles that may obviate the concept completely. But stranger things have happened, none of your tax dollars are at work–and the Linc Volt's car commercial songs should be rockin'.

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