Just charge it

We’re about four to seven months away, depending on the latest guesstimates, from a real revolution in the automotive industry. Those don’t come along too often. I’m referring to the upcoming appearance on the national stage—finally—of the electric car.

The first two players to hit the spotlight will be the Chevy Volt (sometime in November) and the Nissan Leaf (maybe by December, more likely early next year). Yes, these are cars you take home and plug in overnight to get a full charge. In the morning, you’re juiced and good to go. You can see that millions of Americans are eliminated from consideration right here, since this procedure makes one important assumption—that you actually have a garage with electricity. For millions of apartment dwellers, this is probably an instant deal-breaker. So be it.

But for those of us who can plug in, what will the Volt and Leaf bring to our national transportation situation? The Volt will sport a price tag of between 35 and 40 thou and have a battery pack that will provide a reliable 40 miles of driving. After that, a small gas-powered engine lays in reserve, kicking in when the battery is sufficiently low to keep the car going until it can be recharged. So there’s a backup, just in case you do a bit more driving than normal. The Leaf will have a battery pack good for more miles, 100, but there is no back-up in case the batteries get drained. You’ll just have to get to a charging station or park it. But a 100-mile charge furnishes some pretty good wiggle room, even for us commuters in the wide open West. Price is expected to be around 33k. Both models will be eligible for federal tax breaks of up to $7,500, which will bring prices for each into the 26-30k range. And as for speed, one can reasonably expect these cars to travel easily at freeway pace, up to 90 mph. That simply should not be a problem. These will be quiet vehicles. Very, very quiet. Birders will love these cars. Their look will be in line with modern sedans, with the Leaf a bit more distinctive than the Volt.

So why buy electric? It’s the green scene, baby, with a capital G. You want a green car? I mean, a real green car? Here ya go. There are no emissions while being powered by battery. None. No exhaust. No greenhouse gases floating off into the atmosphere. No oil. No oil changes. As for the recharging process, getting your charge-on from even the dirtiest local power plant is far cleaner and cheaper than any individual, inefficient gas engine. This is modest, intelligent transport, attuned to a new century that now demands, to some degree, a vehicular option that really makes a difference. Yes, many will be interested. How many will buy?

This just in: Nissan very happy. The first run of Leafs (Leaves?) is a sellout six months in advance. Thirteen thousand people put down $99 deposits to be the first on their blocks.