RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The Detroit Auto Show opens to the public tomorrow, and there's a lot of buzz surrounding electricity. You name it, it's been electrified: an electric bicycle, electric moped, even a battery-powered racing car. Of course, there are plenty of electric cars.

NPR's Sonari Glinton reports on how long it will take for all this electricity to come to you.

SONARI GLINTON: Here it is, the big news out of the North American International Auto Show in Detroit:

Unidentified Man: And the 2011 North American Car of the Year is the Chevrolet Volt.

(Soundbite of cheering)

GLINTON: The Chevy Volt, the electric car with a back-up gas engine, is clearly the star of the Detroit Auto Show. But it's certainly not the only electric car or hybrid in the game.

Ms. JESSICA CALDWELL (Analyst, Edmunds.com): Tesla, Nissan Leaf, Smart E, Mini E, Mercedes SLS E.

GLINTON: That's Jessica Caldwell. She's an analyst with Edmunds.com; it's an automotive website. She could keep listing the cars for a while. But here's the question: Are there enough electric cars in production so that if you wanted a to buy one, you could get one right now?

Ms. CALDWELL: You can't really get one. If you get one, it's going to be secondhand because there's such a high demand for those vehicles right now.

GLINTON: To give you an idea, December is one of the most important months for auto sales. And in December, General Motors sold 329 Chevy Volts; there were about 10 Nissan Leafs sold. Now, both those cars just started production, and neither of those companies are planning to keep the production at that level.

Tony DiSalle is head of marketing for the Chevy Volt.

Mr. TONY DISALLE (Marketing Director, Chevy Volt): Today, a lot of our customers are early-tech adopters - typically, the first on the block to have an iPhone or an iPad.

GLINTON: Or an electric car.

Mr. DISALLE: That's going to migrate through time. And so the most important thing is for consumers - mass-market consumers - to understand the benefits of the Volt.

GLINTON: So in the coming years, what exactly is a mass market?

Mr. DISALLE: We've announced 10,000 units for sale during the 2011 calendar year.

GLINTON: And next year?

Mr. DISALLE: We'll sell 45,000 units - or build 45,000 units for sale here in the United States.

GLINTON: To give you an idea of how many cars that is, Porsche sold 25,000 cars in the U.S. These are not tremendous numbers.

Mr. BOB LUTZ: (Retired Vice Chairman, General Motors): Look, the electrification of America's fleet is not going to occur overnight.

GLINTON: That is Bob Lutz. He just retired as vice chairman of General Motors. Lutz takes credit, often, for the Chevy Volt. He says electrification will be a gradual process.

Mr. LUTZ: And if you take yourself out to the year 2025, and you look at what percentage of the total vehicle market is going to be electric, it'll probably be 10 to 15 percent. But will it suddenly flip and like, within two years you go into a showroom and half the cars are electric? The answer is no. That's going to take a long time.

GLINTON: Remember Jessica Caldwell, the analyst we heard at the top of the story? She says the plain, old combustion engine that's been around for over a hundred years keeps getting more and more fuel-efficient, and small cars are getting safer and more luxurious. Caldwell says while the industry and electric cars catch up, there are plenty of options for those who want to increase the number of miles they get per gallon - even if they're not as exciting.

Sonari Glinton, NPR News, Detroit.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.