General Motors’ release of the new Volt has generated some questions that were addressed in the N Y Times.  I would like to address the answers.

Rod Panhard of Maplewood, N.J., asked: Road tests allude that when operating in generator mode, the Volt achieves about 35-38 m.p.g. What if G.M. deployed their weight-saving, rolling-resistance-reducing, and aerodynamic technologies and powered a “Volt” with one of G.M.’s fuel-sipping diesels. What kind of fuel economy would it achieve? How much less would it cost compared to a Volt?

A.

Clever screen name, Rod. Just guessing, a Volt with a diesel engine but no lithium-ion battery pack or electric motors might come in 600 pounds lighter than the hybrid Volt; 50 miles per gallon would seem entirely reasonable. But that’s missing the point. The Volt’s design offers a chance to drive with zero tailpipe emissions and zero petroleum consumed directly by the vehicle. Like the first digital watches or laptop computers, it may not be as mature as the products that will follow, but give credit to G.M. for taking a risk.

At issue, here, is what is producing the power to recharge the battery.  Just because the emissions are not coming out of the tailpipe, it does not mean that there are not any. Efficiency is an issue.  Volt claims 35-38 m.p.g.  My 8 year-old Prius got 40 to 45 m.p.g.  My 5 year-old Civic Hybrid gets 37 to 40 m.p.g.  The Volt’s 35 to 38 m.p.g. is a disappointment.

Q.

Tom from the Midwest wondered: How do these perform at 35 degrees below zero in a blizzard?

A.

Well, we ought to know in the next few months. A battery-powered car will surely have less range in extreme cold. But honestly, the Volt is not designed to plow snow, even if it was engineered in Michigan. Can you suggest a front-drive compact sedan that would be great at 35 below in a blizzard?

While I was never in 35 below any weather, I suspect, had I kept it in a garage, my 81’ four wheel drive Subaru wagon would have performed well.

Q.

Billy Dean del Rio of Wisconsin asked: How robust is the battery case? Can it survive intact a high-speed head-on or T-bone crash without scattering its contents around a crash scene?

A.

Naturally, the Volt will have to meet federal crash-test standards. Let’s not forget that there are millions of cars on the road today carrying a large load of a highly flammable liquid aboard — you know, gasoline — so this is an issue that engineers have addressed before.

Yes, the Pinto comes to mind.

Q.

Kudzu62 of Mississippi offered this: This article was pure bull, the author apparently has Prius tattooed on his rear. It became obvious about the third line this dude had a “hate G.M.” complex and knows little about automobiles. Right, Mr. Mayersohn?

A.

I have no such tattoo.

My grandfather was Comptroller of Buick and knew David Buick and Louie Chevrolet.  I used to love G.M.  The G.M. today bears no resemblance to the G.M. that birthed it.  G.M. shat on this country and it’s employees long before Prius came along.  And, objectively, one must grant the superiority of the Prius.  I have no such tattoo, either

Q.

Celeste of Chicago asked: Can one apply the $7,500 federal tax credit against the Prius?

A.

Today’s Prius is eligible for some credits, though it has exceeded the sales limit that applies to other federal incentives. To qualify for the credit you are referring to, a car must meet a minimum battery capacity, which the standard Prius does not. With a 16-kilowatt-hour battery, the Volt qualifies for the maximum credit of $7,500.

Yes, and G.M. priced the Volt to guarantee that G.M. collects all of it.  The purchaser can just suck it up.

Q.

J.P. of New York City wondered: Can a Leaf or a Prius be charged at a Volt charging station? Can batteries be exchanged between either one of them?

A.

First, you do not plug in the Prius that’s on the road today, though a Prius plug-in hybrid will arrive in 2012. As for the plug-in cars, the batteries are not at all interchangeable, and you should not expect them to be anytime soon. G.M. and Nissan designed their vehicles quite differently — however, production versions of electrics and plug-in hybrids have adopted an S.A.E.-standard plug for recharging, so that shouldn’t be a show-stopper.

I will be curious to see how cooperative G.M. is with others.  The RAV4 had a totally plug-in version, 10 years ago, that could travel about 40 miles on a charge.  The  U.S. automotive industry lobbied to make it impossible to get battery replacements for it.

Q.

Merlin Caine of Hawk Springs asked: Will it be fair for Volt and Leaf owners to use roads for which they pay no (or little) taxes to build and maintain?

A.

You are correct in noting that road-use taxes applied to gasoline and diesel fuel provide revenue for construction and maintenance. This is something that has not been addressed for drivers who refill their natural-gas-fueled cars at home, but you have to think that when electrics get to be a significant part of the country’s fleet, government agencies will have their hands out.

The state will probably put a surcharge on the licensing fees for these vehicles, which will really boost their initial cost and seriously reduce their relative efficiency

In addition, there is one caveat that has not been discussed that makes me think that the “plug-in,” as it is configured today, will not be around long.  Even without plugging in a car, my neighbors, with their conventional houses, are being drowned by their electric bills.  While I only paid $70/month for my totally electric house, over the course of a really hot summer, my neighbor’s bills ran anywhere from $250 to $600/ month.  I cannot see any of them running out to buy a very expensive car that would dramatically jump their bill.