And you don't have to be George Clooney to want one. Electric cars may be vaguely cool, but GM executives are counting on drivers with nothing more than a householder's logic, something like the good sense to refinance a mortgage when the 30-year-fixed drops more than 2 percent. Jon Lauckner, GM's vice president of global product planning, tells me that his team set out to trump gas-powered cars as a matter of straightforward economics, especially as economic recovery pushes the price of gas back over $3 a gallon. "At that level," Lauckner says, "the cost of running a Volt in full electric mode will be about one-sixth that of a gas-driven car of the same size, 2 or 3 cents a mile rather than 12 to 15 cents a mile. We figured that, for most people, this means a savings of about $1,500 a year." Sticker prices will be high; the suggested price of the Volt will be about $40,000. But federal tax rebates are anticipated to be as much as $7,500, not to mention various state incentives. So the actual price will probably be closer to $30,000 -- not a bad deal, given that borrowing costs will be low for some time.
When he speaks of "full electric mode," Lauckner is acknowledging another barrier he expects the Volt to take down, namely range anxiety, the fear of getting stuck with rundown batteries while driving in a snowstorm, bumper to bumper, on a 150-mile trip to the in-laws'. The Volt will come equipped with a small gas engine, unlike its forthcoming competitors: the smaller Nissan Leaf, BMW's plug-in Mini Cooper E, and Ford's electric Focus. This engine will not drive the wheels, as with the hybrids now on the market (actually, GM likes to call the Volt an "extended range electric car," not a hybrid), but will act as a dynamo to supply the electricity for the car after 40 miles of running on stored power.
And so, assuming these cars prove safe and reliable, American consumers will almost certainly consume them. U.S. auto companies will make them, and that's good for the planet, right? Yes, but.
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