American Subaru owners are a green bunch. They tend to bike, camp and kayak more than other drivers and inordinately live in the parts of the U.S. with the toughest emissions mandates. The company plays to this ecological image by producing more than 1 million vehicles each year without sending any waste to landfills. Yet the Subaru set can't buy a battery-powered version of its favorite car.

Today's Subarus run exclusively on fossil fuels. Later this year, the company plans to introduce a plug-in hybrid version of its Crosstrek SUV, combining gas engines with electric motors. A fully electric car is still years away.

"If we put one out now, we're going to be competing in the teeth of the market with everybody else," Tom Doll, Subaru of America Inc.'s chief executive officer, explained in an interview. "This way, we can let them kind of sort it out, then we can come in."