Nissan And GM Bet Americans Ready To Go Electric

Mark Perry, director, Product Planning, Nissan North America, Franklin, Tenn.

Tony Posawatz, vehicle line director, Chevy Volt, Warren, Mich.

Phil Ross, senior editor, IEEE Spectrum, New York, N.Y.

By the end of 2010, two mass-market electric cars will be rolling on American highways: the Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt. The Volt is a gas-electric hybrid, with an all-electric range of 40 miles, and the Leaf is pure electric, with a range of 100 miles. Are Americans ready to plug in?

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IRA FLATOW, host:

You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY on NPR. I'm Ira Flatow.

Way back in 2004, when I bought a Prius, I was very happy with the gas mileage I was getting, somewhere between 45, 50 miles per gallon - still getting that today. But what I really wanted was a totally electric car, one that ran on batteries, you plugged it in at night.

And there were people who said hey, Ira, you can convert your car to a plug-in. But I wanted to wait. My question is, is the wait over? Because coming this winter, a couple of plug-ins are hitting the streets in the U.S.

The first is Chevy Volt. It can run on an electric battery for the first 40 miles before switching on a gas engine to generate more electricity to power the car. And the Nissan Leaf - it doesn't even have a gas tank, only a plug. It's pure electric with a 100-mile range, and you plug it into an outlet to recharge it.

Two electric cars running on different technologies with a different philosophy behind them, also. Would you buy one? Or maybe you're worried you might run out of electrons before you get to your destination.

And if you remember the exploding laptop batteries a few years back, how about the safety of those batteries in your car? Can they withstand the rigors and the fender-benders of the daily commute? And how long, if you want one, how long will you have to wait to get one? I remember I waited six months to get my Prius, way back a few years ago.

These are some of the things we're going to talk about. If you'd like to talk about them, answer some of those question. Do you want a plug-in? Would you trade in your old car for a plug-in? And what kind of plug-in would you like to see?

Our number, 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. You can also tweet us, @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I, or join the discussion on Facebook or on our website.

Let me introduce my guests. Phil Ross is a senior editor at the IEEE Spectrum. That's a technology magazine based here in New York. He joins us here in our New York studios. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. PHIL ROSS (Senior Editor, IEEE Spectrum): Thank you.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Mark Perry is the director of product planning at Nissan North America in Franklin, Tennessee. He joins us from Nashville. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Mr. Perry.

Mr. MARK PERRY (Director, Product Planning, Nissan North America): Thanks, Ira, for having me.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Tony Posawatz is the vehicle line director for the Chevy Volt based in Warren, Michigan. He joins by phone. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Mr. Posawatz.

Mr. TONY POSAWATZ (Vehicle Line Director, Chevy Volt): Ira, hello SCIENCE FRIDAY audience, and a special hello to the young SCIENCE FRIDAY listeners David(ph), Nick(ph), Nicole(ph) and Eric(ph).

FLATOW: A shout-out to your kids?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well - and some of the relatives. I like to see them listening and learning even during summer vacation. And Ira, you're spot-on. There's a lot to be learned relative to the new plug-ins that are coming out later this year.

FLATOW: Well, let me start with you, Tony. You seem to be eager to talk. Tell us about your new car.

Mr. POSAWATZ: Oh, we're very excited about the Chevrolet Volt, unveiled in January of 2007. It is a car that is going to hit the marketplace and will be in dealer showrooms for sale to retail customers by the end of this year.

It's an electric vehicle that can go 350 miles of range. The first 40 or so are specifically based on the advanced lithium ion battery power that comes from the grid just by plugging it in, and the extended-range feature is an onboard engine generator.

So we believe the Chevrolet Volt will be a car that you can use every day, can be your primary vehicle, and hopefully, it will usher in a new area of plug-in vehicles.

FLATOW: And Mark Perry, how does the Nissan Leaf compare to that?

Mr. PERRY: Oh, we're coming forward with a little different technology. I mean, we are zero-emission all the time. I mean, we have no gas. We have no fuel tank. We are 100 percent electric. And we don't even have a tailpipe.

So we believe that our car, you can use it as your primary vehicle every day because with 100 miles of range, you can get everywhere you need to go every day, and you simply plug it in overnight, you wake up with 100 miles, and you're ready to go again.

FLATOW: Phil Ross, your thoughts on these two cars from technology point of view?

Mr. ROSS: Well, a technology point of view is it's a very ancient idea. The electric car I think preceded the gasoline car, and it's...

FLATOW: Is that right?

Mr. ROSS: I believe the first cars were electric and steam.

FLATOW: The old Stanley Steamer.

Mr. ROSS: I think gasoline came afterwards. Of course, gasoline lapped electric long ago. And the reason why electric cars are catching up now is not because of some enormous jump in technology, so far as I can see. The lithium ion batteries, though, are quite nifty. It's because the government is pushing new regulations.

This is not driven by consumer demand. This is driven by government fiat.

FLATOW: Explain that a little bit more.

Mr. ROSS: Well, I don't usually, when a technology comes in, it's because people want the performance that it allows or the cheaper price that it makes possible.

Sometimes, it's government fiat. For example, I don't think anyone ever paid a nickel extra for seatbelts. Airbags may be different, and antilock brakes, the government never had to mandate them. People demanded them so quickly, they never had to write it into law.

But electric cars, except for some early adopters, people like you, Ira, I don't think too many people want them.

FLATOW: But I got thousands of dollars in tax credits.

Mr. ROSS: That's government fiat money.

FLATOW: For buying these cars.

Mr. ROSS: That's government money.

FLATOW: And Mark, you're going to get a lot money back from the government, correct, if you buy a Leaf?

Mr. PERRY: And I disagree with Phil's point about this as completely government or regulatory driven. I mean, as you look at just the consumers out there, there is a whole sustainability movement that folks, just like yourself - I mean, they may be in hybrids today, but they were looking for a pure zero-emission solution, a vehicle that does not harm the environment, zero tailpipe emissions in a vehicle they can use every day.

So you can see that growing population of consumers out there. Sure, there has been some wonderful support from the government because we're introducing a new technology and a change in the fueling structure for transportation.

I mean, the electrification of the transportation sector is going to take a lot of work. It's going to take a team effort from not only government agencies but companies like GM and Nissan working forward to bring this technology to market.

But it's certainly consumer-driven. I mean, we see it everywhere we go. I mean, we have 18,000 people who have already reserved their Leaf, and so if those are if that's not being consumer-led, I don't know what is.

Mr. POSAWATZ: Yeah, I echo Mark's sentiments from the perspective, the response that we get - I'm sure Mark does the same thing with the Leaf - is it finally offers up an alternative, and customers love choice.

Whether that choice is a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy volt, those are two choices that didn't exist in the future. And again, there's some wonderful attributes about electric drive.

When you talk about just the driving experience, the quietness, the no transmission shift, the smoothness and instantaneous torque makes these cars especially fun to drive.

FLATOW: How many folks are waiting for your car?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, we can't comment yet on the specifics. We will comment about that soon. But the response from our recent announcement and our pricing announcement has been just overwhelming.

We've heard anecdotal stories about how much over sticker that people are willing to pay for the car, the Chevrolet Volt. And both the Nissan Leaf and the Volt offer very attractive leases, $350 a month, to get people into it.

And then ultimately, when you look at the savings that exist from the price of electricity and especially off-peak electricity, as Mark indicated, most people will be charging at those times, it's not just green from the perspective of environmental green, but there is some green to the pocketbook with electrically driven vehicles and plug-in technology.

FLATOW: Let's go to Judy(ph) in Fort Collins. Hi, Judy.

JUDY (Caller): Hi. I was calling to see how long it would take to charge, recharge a Leaf? And I'll listen on the radio for the answer.

FLATOW: Well, thank you for calling.

Mr. PERRY: Judy, the answer is really dependent on which plug we're talking about. That 120-volt plug that you see everywhere, the car comes standard with a cord set that you can charge.

Now again, technically, there's only 1.4 kilowatts an hour that come out of that plug. So it's a little bit long. We're recommending that people use that electric dryer plug that everybody has in their home. And in that case, it's about seven hours to recharge the car overnight.

And then in some markets, we're actually going to be offering a D/C, direct current fast-charge capability, where the car goes from zero to 80 percent state of charge in under 30 minutes.

So it's really a consumer-led choice of, well, which plug are you going to use.

CONAN: I noticed that some cities are even installing electric charging stations at various places, Phil. I know New York just opened up its first one here. Do we have to see more of those, do you think, before this will become acceptable?

Mr. ROSS: Well, it depends on which car you're talking about. The Chevy Volt has the advantage on this one. They have the gasoline engine to make sure you get home no matter what happens.

I think most people would probably wish to charge their car at home, not wanting to cool their heels getting a cup of coffee, especially if it's rainy outside.

But to know that at least you could stop and recharge if you had to would offer a lot of peace of mind. I just wonder what the economics will be for the people operating those stations if they're only used in last resort, if most people could charge it at night at home or at their work during the day and if they only use these recharging stations along the road when they have to.

FLATOW: Mark, are we going to be who's going to be servicing these cars? Are we having electricians service it or car mechanics because if there's no exhaust, there's no transmission, there's no oil to change, you're going to make a lot of people unhappy.

Mr. PERRY: Well, I think the contrary. I think we're going to make a lot of people happy because your maintenance costs are going to be a lot less than internal combustion engine cars today because of what you just said.

There's no transmission. There's no transmission oil. There's no exhaust system. There's no catalytic converter. And heck, we don't even have a tailpipe.

So to your question, though - I mean, yes. We're doing a large effort to make sure that our technicians are trained within the Nissan dealerships across the United States. You know, part of our rollout plan is just a reflection of how fast we can get people trained and get them certified and prepared to sell and service the vehicle. And that's what we're setting out to do, and we'll be nationwide by the end of 2011.

And if I could, if I could go back to one of the points that Phil made about public charging, we should understand that a year from now - and it's starting basically this fall - there are over 12,000 public charging stations that will be in the ground and operational. People tend to look out today and they see very few. A year from now, at last count - and the number changes almost every month. I mean, San Francisco just announced 3,000 public charging stations in the Bay Area earlier this week.

The number right now nationwide across 19 states, not just the West Coast, 19 states, over 12,000 public charging stations. And now you add to that the convenience of just charging in your garage overnight. I think this idea of not having a place to plug in is going to disappear.

FLATOW: Tony, how soon will be able - people will be able to get their hands on a Volt?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, I just had my 240-volt charging station put in yesterday, and that will allow a Chevy Volt to be charged in about three to four hours. And with every Volt comes a 120-volt cord set, or we call it an EVSC, electric vehicle supply equipment unit. And so that can be charged at any 120-volt outlet.

FLATOW: You're getting to sound like NASA now.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, there's a lot of technology in these vehicles, absolutely. That's why they've taken so long to be developed, but - so that charge is an overnight charge at off-peak electricity. That's about a nine-hour charge on a Volt. And I'll be driving mine around in September already, and as we stated earlier, in some of our seven launch markets, we will see these vehicles in retail customers' hands before the end of the year.

FLATOW: And how many cars are you going to be making next year?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, we're going to make as many as customers want. Probably, the first model year, it'll be a very focused launch to make certain we begin to ready all 3,000 utilities in the United States to care of the service requirements, make sure all our dealers are properly trained.

We're very fortunate Chevrolet has had a lot of experience in a bunch of different hybrid vehicles, so they have a lot of experience to your previous question in battery technology and servicing high-voltage systems and the like. So we think that'll be ready.

So by calendar year 2011, we expect to produce over 10,000. By calendar year 2012, we're anticipating 45,000-plus Volts. And ultimately, this American ingenuity in the Volt produced at Detroit/Hamtramck in Michigan, battery produced in Brownstown, Michigan, will be exported to China, Europe, Australia and wherever markets are desiring an exciting car like the Volt.

FLATOW: We're talking about electric cars this hour on SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. And, of course, that technology paid with American tax dollars, because we own GM, don't we? That's going to change soon, I understand, from initial public offering.

Let me ask you, Phil. Why aren't other companies - why aren't we seeing Volkswagen and Honda and Toyota jumping on this bandwagon to create a plug-in, a pure plug-in like that?

Mr. ROSS: I don't...

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well - and let me begin here...

FLATOW: Well, let me ask Phil that question.

Mr. ROSS: I'm hardly an expert on what those companies are doing, because they talk much. But what they did tell me some time ago - Toyota anyway...

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. ROSS: ...is that they're looking at the technology, but they don't think the battery - the price level was there yet. They wouldn't elaborate. That was 10 months ago. Maybe, something's changed since then.

What I think is interesting is that all the companies in the world are working on electric drive. It's not just General Motors and Nissan. Everyone assumes it's going to be important. I just said earlier that I didn't think it was because customers were clamoring for it, but rather because the government was demanding it.

FLATOW: But don't you think they will start demanding? It's once they start -no one (unintelligible).

Mr. ROSS: You know that is? (unintelligible)

FLATOW: The Prius had - you know, was a lost leader for a few years, right?

Mr. ROSS: (unintelligible)

FLATOW: And then it became the most demanded car in America.

Mr. ROSS: Well, it may have been demanded, but at what price? I had at least one analyst tell me, as recently as nine months ago, he wasn't sure it was breaking even, even then.

FLATOW: But that doesn't mean that the demand reason that it's breaking even.

Mr. ROSS: Well, of course, if you lower the price low enough, you'll get demand.

FLATOW: Well, if they're selling as many cars as they can make, which they were...

Mr. ROSS: At an artificially low price.

FLATOW: ...all better for the consumer, right?

Mr. ROSS: Well, yes, but the money's got to come from somewhere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I'm not worrying about Toyota.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's go to Muhammad(ph) in Minneapolis. Hi.

MUHAMMAD (Caller): Hi, Ira. I just wanted to make the comment that everybody thinks the auto manufacturers are pitching this to the wrong demographics. Many of the people who are most likely to be early adopters, such as my wife and I, we're college students, and we can't quite afford the 32,000 and the $41,000 price range that the LEAF and the Volt are selling for. If it was between 20 and 25, I think they would get a lot more early adapters jumping on board with this technology pretty early. And I'll take my response off the air. Thank you.

FLATOW: Okay. Mark, you can lower that price a bit, can you not?

Mr. PERRY: Well, again, I'd say I don't know if the caller just realized that the LEAF in Minnesota would be $25,000. So we're right at the price point. I mean, after the $7,500 federal tax credit, we're right at the price that he was asking us to be at. So - and in some markets, especially in California, that number's actually - after the state rebates in California, we're actually at $20,000. So absolutely in the mass market's a perfect spot in the marketplace to do mass production and mass marketing. And we're setting off to build 50,000 cars our first year globally and getting ready to have capacity just here in the United States at the end of 2012 of 150,000 cars a year.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PERRY: So when - we are absolutely building for scale. We see the market demand out there, and we want to be there.

FLATOW: Tony, sell me a Volt - I have 30 seconds. Give me a pitch of how you can lower the price on it.

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, you know, remember the $4,000 cell phone a few years back? Less than 20 years ago, we didn't sell one singular cell phone. The first came out very expensively. And Mark highlighted one of the key points. As soon as you get the volume up and you get the innovators, the scientists, the entrepreneurs driving the cost down, we anticipate that the cost will come down of this car, and you save a lot of money on the electricity and some of the other benefits that come with an electrified car like the Chevy Volt.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to take a break and come back and take some more questions about plug-in electric cars. Our number: 1-8009-989-8255. You can tweet us @scifri. Also leave a message and chat about us on Facebook and at our website at sciencefriday.com.

Stay with us. We'll be right back with Phil Ross, Mark Perry and Tony Posawatz in just a minute. Don't go away.

(Soundbite of music)

I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR.

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FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY, from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. We're talking about plug-in electric cars this hour with Phil Ross, senior editor at the IEEE Spectrum, Mark Perry, director of product planning at Nissan North America, and Tony Posawatz is the vehicle line director for the Chevy Volt. Our number: 1-800-989-8255.

Lots of people have been asking lots of questions about it. They're interested in getting a car. And, well, they have things they want to know. So let's see if we can go to the - let's go to the phones. Marcus of Santa Clara. Hi, Marcus.

MARCUS(Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi, there. Go ahead.

MARCUS: Yeah. Well, I happen to be one of the lucky ones that got a RAV4 all-electric about - here in California. Back in 2003, 2002, these cars were sold here. And I drove this car for a long time. I drove over 70,000 miles, electric miles. It was great. But I'm in the line now for a LEAF. I think - I don't think the Volt would do it for me, 40 miles. It's beyond my range. I work in sales, and I drive throughout the Bay Area. And an ideal range would be 110, 120, to go and safely charge in my home, which has solar panels. So I kind of have a very small carbon footprint.

The question that I have is that I'm a little concerned about the time that it takes to charge the LEAF. I heard through some readings and some lists about a faster level, 240-volt charging, 6.6 kilowatts, which would cut the time radically in terms of charging. It cuts the time in half. Is that coming? That's a question for Mark.

FLATOW: Mark? You mentioned something about that. And I had read that you can have a quick charger installed in your garage, correct?

Mr. PERRY: Well, I want to get the nomenclature correct. I mean, quick-charging, typically, we refer to that as DC fast charging. That's that 440-volt power of charging where you can charge up the LEAF from zero to 80 percent in about 30 minutes. I mean, again, in the Bay area, in Vacaville and in Los Angeles and in San Diego, there will be quick-charging stations spread up and down the 405 and I-5 corridor. I mean, in just those areas alone, the Bay area is going to get 40 to 50 of them, Los Angeles about the same, San Diego about the same. And we're actually going to connect those population centers together.

Now, to the caller's direct question, what we're going to learn in - from the market place in the next two years is, what's that right combination? Right now, the overnight charging - you know, again, once it's overnight, you know, a vehicle that you can recharge from zero in seven or eight hours - again, you know, how many times are you going to show up in your garage and actually be at zero? So, again, the time goes down. And once you're asleep and the car is charging overnight, what does it matter if it's three hours, four hours or six hours? We'll have that option available for DC fast charging to give consumers that choice. So you get 80 miles worth of range, you know, from zero in 30 minutes.

We are looking at a faster onboard charger of the vehicle to speed up those level two times. But, of course, there's cost involved in that. And we're trying - we'll learn from the marketplace about what actually is needed. It's technically possible. And we would make sure that anybody who purchased the LEAF in the first year or two could retrofit and upgrade if they wanted to if we decided to come out with it. But we're still - we'll learn from the marketplace in the next year or two.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Tony, any comments?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Yeah. To our friend in Santa Clara, hopefully he understands that the Chevrolet Volt allows you 350 miles of range in an electric vehicle. So if he is driving 100 or so miles every day, the Volt would actually be a very good choice for him. As Mark indicated, the DC, direct-current, high-voltage chargers really are not residential. So that needs to be clarified. And there is still some installation costs to set up your home charging station if your want the Level II/240 volt. As we indicated, the Chevrolet Volt charges up in the 240-volt/Level II in three to four hours.

So if your place of work - and this is something that Mark and I certainly agree with. If we can offer up a few additional chargers at the place of work, where there car sits another eight to 10 hours - and for some of us even longer than that given how much we work - you can top off your battery relatively inexpensively and extend that range, if you will. So we think there's, you know, opportunity to continue to develop that infrastructure, and we think it'll happen over time. And I think with the position that we have taken both from Chevrolet and Nissan to be leaders in this space, we'll be the first ones to learn and adjust and modify based on the needs and wants of the customer.

FLATOW: Phil Ross, do you have any reservations about the use of lithium-ion batteries in these cars? Are they safe enough?

Mr. ROSS: I wouldn't know. I - from what I understand, they've been made very safe.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. ROSS: The fear that what happened to those laptops that exploded might happen on a higher scale, I'm sure that's been taken care of. I know that the government wouldn't allow that. The problem here with the technology that I'm a little concerned about is what happens three years down the line. Lithium ion batteries lose capacity with simple age, whether you use them or not. I'd like to know if a given battery can go - can take you 80 miles on the first year, how far will a charge take you on the fifth year?

FLATOW: Let me ask Mark and Tony.

Mr. PERRY: Yeah. Well, we have done all the work, as you might imagine, I mean, to address safety question. Of course, we're extremely safe. The chemistry is completely different than the laptop batteries that people may have remembered. So, you know, well, that's behind us. The question on gradual loss of capacity, yes, there is gradual loss of capacity. After five years, you'll be at about 80 percent of capacity. That's what typically happens.

And actually, we forecast out as far 10 years, where at the end of 10 years of use in the vehicle, you'd be down around between 70 and 80. So again, you're not using up your battery. It doesn't - you know, you're not down at zero, and you'll have, you know, again, more than enough range to take care of it.

And we've even thought through of, you know, use of the battery after the life in the car. And there is a whole - these batteries are - have nine lives. There's life after use of the car in the utility sector, as storage for neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs, as energy sources. I mean, these batteries will be around a long time, and they're completely recyclable and recoverable, too.

FLATOW: You got to watch out when you talk about batteries and say nine lives, you think you - of Rayovac, which is not the battery company we're talking about here. Phil, did you want to say something?

Mr. ROSS: Yes. I want to know what a little bit more about the 70 percent number you gave, 70 to 80 percent number you gave after 10 years. If it loses 80 percent capacity every five years, that would imply 64 percent should be left after 10. Or am I missing something?

Mr. PERRY: No, it's only 20 percent in five years. So you had 80 percent of capacity left after five, 70 percent of capacity left after 10.

FLATOW: Is it not possible - I remember when the Prius came out and people started jerry-rigging the car themselves, I mean, a do-it-yourself car. We've had people on the program who talked about replacing the Toyota battery to put their own batteries in, third-party batteries, trying to make it into plug-in cars. Could we not see the same sort of cottage industry or do-it-yourselfers saying, you know what? These batteries are okay, but I could put my own in here and maybe get 150 to 200 mile range on these sort of batteries.

Mr. ROSS: Now you're talking big fires.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSS: They might not know how to do it.

FLATOW: Well, there's something - there have been - yeah. Well, they've been doing it with Priuses now for five, six years, and I haven't doesn't seem too many fires that have been replaced. But you're right. It's something to think about. But would - Mark, might we not see, you know, third-party parts coming out?

Mr. PERRY: Well, again, it's an issue of - and we have completely optimized the Nissan Leaf. I mean, with the vehicle size that it is, room for five adults, you know, 90 mile-an-hour top speed, you know, it drives like a real car. And we always get the question, well, what could you do to get more range? Well, it is your - just like it is with any hybrid. You know, your driving style will affect the ability to better than 100, or your ability to have the experience of less than 100. It's all about how you drive.

FLATOW: Uh-huh.

Mr. PERRY: But once you start putting more batteries on board, then you start making compromises. You have cost issues, price goes up. You have packaging issues, rear seat roominess goes down, trunk space goes down. So you start making a vehicle that, all of a sudden, is not really designed for consumers, and it's a vehicle that is not optimized. So, I mean, the answer is, sure, somebody could do a conversion. They won't be able to do it at the price that we're currently entering the market with. And they can't do it in a vehicle with the head room, leg room, knee room, passenger capacity and trunk space that we have with the Nissan LEAF.

FLATOW: Tony Posawatz, are you already planning a second generation Volt?

Mr. POSAWATZ: Well, because we feel so bullish on this technology, and having driven the cars, experienced the cars - and I will comment a little bit also on what we're doing in our battery's side. We know that we have to be continually leading and improving in order to stay ahead of the competition and continue to meet and exceed customer expectations.

So, yes. We have advanced projects underway to look at increased energy and power density in the battery, more efficient power electronics, lower cost systems and a better performance, including, you know, the OnStar telematics package that comes free for five years with every Chevrolet Volt, allows you to monitor your car, access information from your car, and also send commands to your car via your smartphone. So you can literally start your charging, if you so desire, by initiating a command from your smartphone. So we think technology's the answer. Staying in a leadership position is the answer. And we continue to work on innovating.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. A couple of tweets, sort of linked tweets, saying - one says: I keep hearing from my power company, saying use less power. Won't plug-in cars make you, you know, louder? In other words, we're - a couple of other tweets saying are we still just transferring where we're getting our electricity or our energy for our vehicle coming from gasoline to a coal-burning, let's say, power plant? Is there nothing, Phil Ross, in that?

Mr. ROSS: Well, the whole question is: What is your net effect on the carbon footprint?

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. ROSS: If you take everything into account, you'd have to take the loss in the wires that transmit the electricity. You'd have to take into account the varying loads. You'd also have to take into account where the electricity comes from. You might imagine a future where we have more hydroelectric power, more wind power, more nuclear power, more solar power. But right now, most of our electricity comes from fossil fuels. So if you burn it at the generating plant, you're still producing carbon dioxide.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Let's go to Nolan in Portland, Oregon. Hi, Nolan.

NOLAN (Caller): Hey, Ira. How are you doing?

FLATOW: Hi, there. Quickly.

NOLAN: Quickly, the Fisker Karma. We're a Ferrari/Maserati dealership out here in Portland, Oregon. And it's the same technology or the same layout as the Chevy Volt. It's the plug-in hybrid. It starts at 87,900. So if you have money and you need to keep up with the Porsche but you still want to go 50 miles on pure electric, then you can.

FLATOW: All right. Thanks for - that free plug. Thanks for calling. We've ran out of time, but I'd like to thank all my guests this hour. Phil Ross, senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. It's a technology magazine based here in New York. Mark Perry is director of product planning at Nissan North America in Franklyn, Tennessee. And Tony Posawatz is the vehicle line director for the Chevy Volt based in Warren, Michigan. Good luck to you with all your cars.

Mr. POSAWATZ: Thank you so much.

FLATOW: It will be good to have more electric cars on the road, I think.

Mr. POSAWATZ: Customers love these choices, and we're going to give them lots of them.

FLATOW: All right. Have a good weekend. Thank you.

Mr. PERRY : Thanks, Ira.

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY, on NPR.

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