updated 8/23/2009 3:29:24 PM ET 2009-08-23T19:29:24

Honda Motor Co. plans to introduce electric vehicles in the U.S. early next decade, joining a growing number of automakers vying for the lead in clean technology development, local media reported Saturday.

Japan's second-biggest car maker, which has focused on gas-electric hybrids so far, is building an all-electric prototype to be unveiled at the Tokyo Motor Show in October, according to the Nikkei financial newspaper. It said Honda would begin sales of electric vehicles in the United States in the first half of the decade.

A Honda spokesman said the Tokyo-based company has begun to develop electric vehicles, but has not decided on a release date. He declined to be named, citing company policy.

Honda released its new Insight earlier this year, billing it as the cheapest gas-electric hybrid on the market, to compete with Toyota Motor Corp.'s top-selling Prius.

But with U.S. environmental regulations expected to toughen, automakers are stepping up efforts to release zero-emission cars.

Honda has leased a small number of its FCX Clarity hydrogen fuel cell vehicles to customers in Southern California since last year. Their high development cost, however, prompted Honda to consider adding electric cars to its lineup, the Nikkei said.

Among its rivals, Nissan Motor Co. is set to begin selling its Leaf electric hatchback in the U.S., Europe and Japan next year. Toyota Motor Corp. has said it plans to launch electric models by 2012.

In June, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., launched its own electric vehicle, the 4.59 million yen ($48,300) i-MiEV. Ford's first battery electric vehicle, the Transit Connect commercial van, is to be available next year, while General Motors Corp. is set to release its Chevrolet Volt next year, a rechargeable electric car with a small internal combustion engine that the company says will get up to 230 miles per gallon in city driving.

The Obama administration in June said Ford, Nissan and Tesla Motors Inc. would be the first three beneficiaries of a $25 billion fund to develop fuel-efficient vehicles.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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