Tom and Ray Magliozzi, <EM>Nova</EM> Tom and Ray Magliozzi, Nova

You may not know the faces, but if you’re a fan of NPR’s automotive call-in show “Car Talk,” you certainly know the voices (and the frequent laughs) of Tom and Ray Magliozzi, aka Click and Clack, the Tappets. The boisterous brothers — who’ll get animated this summer for their very own PBS cartoon following their off-the-air lives — make a rare TV appearance on tonight’s Nova (8 pm/ET, PBS) to look at the “car of the future” and what will power it: ethanol, hydrogen or electricity. You do so little TV. What attracted you to this installment of Nova?
Ray Magliozzi: The idea of the car of the future intrigues us. I was promised by reading Popular Science and Popular Mechanics that the car of the future would be something very different from what my father drove. I’m now 59, and I’m very disappointed that the car I drive is not very different from what Dad drove! [Laughs] In fact, the car Tom drives is a little bit worse than what Dad drove!
Tom Magliozzi: [Laughs] In your opinion, will we ever see a vehicle that runs independent of gasoline in our lifetime?
Ray: Oh sure.
Tom: Oh yeah. One that’s mass-produced?
Ray: Sure. There will be electric cars for consumers. Will the majority be electric? Eventually. If I look far enough down the line, I see cars running on nothing but electricity, and that electricity coming from nuclear power. After all, the Klingons are doing it, for God’s sake…we've got to be able to do it! So you think it’ll likely be an electric vehicle, not ethanol or hydrogen?
Ray: In the short term, it might be some combination. But I think the trend is going to be electricity. And what I envision is that every household would have [its own] power plant that uses some kind of unique technology, maybe even nuclear technology, to heat your house, provide your electricity, charge your car…. You won’t need to go to a facility to get your car filled up.
Tom: But that’s still pretty far away. Never mind our addiction to oil as a fuel, how are we going to break our physical addiction to big cars? It’s such a primal urge to have a powerful machine at your disposal, as you guys say in this Nova.
Ray: Oh sure. We can make smaller vehicles that are powerful. We used to do that, but every time we had the chance to get more horsepower and use that to make a more efficient vehicle, we instead made the vehicle bigger and heavier. There’s no reason that we can’t have vehicles with today’s technology that are all getting 35-40 miles to the gallon. Don’t you think that the price of gasoline is going to by and large determine what people’s appetites are? I think so. I can’t imagine that people are still buying SUVs that get 8 miles per gallon.
Ray: I think they get 9, but… [Laughs]
Tom: They still are going out and buying them!
Ray: In smaller numbers. Every tick upward in the price of gasoline means sales lost for those guys. And inevitably they’re going to see the light. What’s great about capitalism is that there’s someone poised — probably one of the Japanese car companies — to make something that gets 45 to 50 miles to the gallon. What car company is being the most progressive in terms of green technology?
Ray: I think the one company that has shown it’s kind of leading the way has been Toyota. And I’m very hopeful that GM with its Volt [an electric car] is not just blowing smoke. I hope this car comes to the market and is wildly successful. If they satisfy their customers, it will signal a sea change. It will make everyone follow. What do you think the problem is with the American car industry? Why are foreign cars so superior? Why doesn’t Chevy, for instance, at this point say, “Honda’s doing so well with the Civic, let’s build a carbon copy and put the Chevy badge on it”?
Ray: They can. The new Malibu, for example, is a pretty nice car. It’s a real nice car. Is it quite a Honda Accord? No, but it’s pretty damn close.
Tom: Pretty close…. But it’s only taken them 35, 40 years to catch up to Honda.
Ray: You know why? Because the automotive industry, at least in this country, has been run by teenage boys who became 50-year-old men but never outgrew their teen age. When you’re a kid, what do you want to do? You want to go faster. And you want to have a more powerful engine. The guys making the decisions were the ones who were able to promote that philosophy.
Tom: We were conditioned by Detroit.
Ray: Right. By Madison Avenue and Detroit. It’s easy to make cars more powerful. It’s not easy to make cars more efficient. We hope that when people start asking “what does that [car] get for mileage?”, that will send a signal to the [car companies] that it’s time to change. Guys, I have to ask: I just bought a brand-new car. When should I do my first oil change?
Ray: We used to recommend to people that they change their oil after 500 miles with a new car, then 1,000 miles and then do regular oil changes every 3,000. But now we’ve upped that to 5,000, which is what most manufacturers are recommending. The truth is, you can probably do that first oil change at 5,000. I’m glad to hear that...
Ray: Because you’re at 4,900 right now! [Laughs]
Tom: You’re a lazy bum! [Laughs]

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