America's newest "green" cars made a stop Monday at the Johns Hopkins University, where students used to being examined turned the tables, crowding around to see, sit in and drive a Chevrolet Volt. The students also peppered the carmakers' engineers with questions about how the cars work — and how much they cost.
General Motors brought a few of its sleek, quiet Volts — a cross between an electric car and a hybrid — to Hopkins' Homewood campus so the private university's students could check them out. The event was part of a national tour to generate buzz for the rollout of the first vehicles for sale to the public.
"It was quiet. It was smooth," said Amber Saffold, a junior from Detroit, referring to the lack of engine noise as the Volts pulled up and departed on test drives. "They look really nice, too."
The Baltimore-Washington area is one of five places where GM plans to debut its much-talked-about Volts, with the first cars trickling in to select dealerships by the end of this month. At one Maryland dealer, potential buyers on a a waiting list outnumber the cars GM has promised to deliver for the next several months.
The Volt is one of two new environmentally friendly cars coming out this fall. The other is the all-electric Nissan Leaf, which can go up to 100 miles on its battery. It's already being sold on the West Coast and in Arizona and Tennessee, but won't be offered in the Baltimore-Washington region until April, a spokeswoman said.
Parked in front of Mason Hall, the university visitors center, the silver-and-black Volts drew a small throng of students eager to look, touch and get behind the wheel, even if they weren't prepared to buy a Volt anytime soon. The $41,000 sticker price is more than a year's undergraduate tuition at Hopkins.
Dubbed by GM an "extended range electric vehicle," the Volt runs on rechargable battery power for 25 to 50 miles before switching over to a 1.4-liter gasoline engine when the juice runs low. The battery and generator together can take the car 300 miles on a full charge and full gas tank.
The car's battery can be recharged in 10 hours by plugging it into a standard 120-volt electrical outlet, or in just four hours using a 240-volt circuit.
Though the Volt's sticker price can be shocking, buyers can get a $7,500 federal tax credit that reduces the net cost to $33,500. Chevrolet also is offering a 36-month lease for $350 a month, with $2,500 down.
Even that's a bit steep for Daniel Abrahams, a New York City native who wasn't ready to ditch his Volkswagen Jetta just yet. But Abrahams, studying for his master's in environmental policy, welcomed the car's emphasis on reducing oil use and climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.
Elsewhere, prospective buyers are lining up for a Volt. Donald Moore, sales manager for Darcars Chevrolet in Lanham, said he has 22 names on a waiting list, with only five Volts promised to his dealership between now and March 1.
With 20,000 people already on Nissan's waiting list for a chance to buy a Leaf, the automaker isn't taking any more names for now. The 2011 Leaf lists for $32,780, but is also eligible for the federal tax credit.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Daniel Abrahams. The Sun regrets the error.