Why the Electric Car is Here to Stay

4 years ago by David Murray 59

Will The Extended Range EV (like the Chevy Volt pictured above) Lead The Way Into The Future?  Or Will It Be The Pure Electric Vehicle?  Who Knows For Sure - But Plug-Ins Are Here To Stay

Will Extended Range Plug-Ins (like the Chevy Volt pictured above) Lead The Way Into The Future? Or Will It Be The Pure Electric Vehicle? Who Knows For Sure – But Plug-Ins Are Here To Stay

Most electric vehicle enthusiasts are familiar with the story of how the electric vehicle was killed off around the turn of the millennium.  Many people were afraid it could happen again, some are concerned it could still happen now.  When having conversations with people even today, I hear people suggest to me that the electric car is “doomed to fail.”  Their reasons as as varied as they are inventive.  Here’s a list of some of the more popular reasons I hear in no particular order:

  • Will Too Many EVs Crash The Grid In The Future?

    Will Too Many Plugged In EVs Crash The Grid In The Future?

    Gasoline and diesel engines keep getting more efficient and cleaner, thus cancelling out any need

  • We will run out of lithium or other rare-earth metals needed to produce them
  • The power grid won’t be able to handle it
  • Fuel cells will be out soon and they will take over from electric cars
  • Electric vehicles just don’t work and consumers will never embrace them
  • The only people that buy them are environmentalists and eventually they’ll realize they’re being scammed because EVs are dirtier than gasoline cars
  • They are too expensive and thus not profitable to the manufacturers
  • People only buy them because they are subsidized, once the tax credits go away, so will the cars.

Some of these excuses have a grain of truth to them, albeit highly exaggerated.  Others are totally baseless.  I’m not going to waste my time debunking each of these.  But I’ll admit I’ve been afraid of one issue, and that would be of the profitability issue.  If manufacturers have to sell them below cost, they’ll stop making them.  This issue would obviously be compounded when the tax credits go away.

But, after thinking about it there are two very important reasons why the EV will not be going away”

CARB Constantly Applies More And More Pressure On Automakers To Build Electric Vehicles

CARB Constantly Applies More And More Pressure On Automakers To Build Electric Vehicles

CARB Requirements

Right now California and other states that follow CARB standards, require manufacturers to produce a certain number of zero emissions vehicles.  Right now the requirement for 2012-2014 is that they must have 0.79% be pure electric cars.

So if GM sells 250,000 cars in a year in California, they’d need to sell around 2,000 pure electric vehicles in the state. Also they have to build an even larger number of plug-in hybrids and regular hybrids. They also have the option to buy CARB credits from another manufacturer like Nissan or Tesla. And that option is appealing right now to some manufacturers.  However, the number of cars required goes up each year. So eventually they’ll have to build their own.  You can see the entire document from CARB here.

Tesla Motors

Tesla's Only Option Is To Keep Building EVs

Tesla’s Only Option Is To Keep Building EVs That People Actually Want To Buy

Tesla is probably the biggest motivator right now.  Despite all of the naysayers, they continue to push forward breaking barrier after barrier.  They appear unstoppable right now.  Some people say the company is not viable long term.  At this point, it doesn’t matter.  They have enough cash and stock right now that they could keep going for years without ever making a profit.

Tesla has promised to bring a low cost car to market with 200 miles EV range.  You can bet that other manufacturers are not thrilled about this. If they don’t move forward with better electric offerings, they will be left in the dirt in possibly less than a decade.  No longer do they have the option of just building compliance cars that are “just good enough” and then pricing them high and claiming that there is no market for electric cars.  That strategy won’t work anymore.  They know they have just a few short years to get their game together.  They have to build something that people want and that people can afford.

Nissan Is One Of The Main Driving Forces Behind The Electrification Of The Automobile Today

Nissan Is One Of The Main Driving Forces Behind The Electrification Of The Automobile Today

Some might argue that Nissan is also making a difference.  But lets face it, Nissan could pull the plug in the Leaf if they thought it was in their best financial interest to do so – if it weren’t selling well enough, or wasn’t making a profit.  Tesla, on the other hand, doesn’t have that option.  Their entire business is electric cars.

We don’t know exactly what the landscape of plug-in cars will look like 10 or 20 years down the line. Looking at laptop computers from the late 1980’s and early 1990’s shows that there were a lot of ideas tried on what a portable computer should be like. Some were suitcases.  Some were clam-shell designs. Some had trackballs while others had touchpads or tracksticks.    But essentially one design emerged as the standard: The flip up screen with a touchpad in front and keyboard in back.

I have to wonder what type of plug-in car will emerge as the standard.  Will it be pure electric like the Teslas, or plug-in hybrids like the Volt, or maybe some other setup we haven’t even seen yet. Will EVs remain a niche, or will the be the common man’s car?  But one thing is for sure, the cat is out of the bag and there is no way to get the cat back in.  Electric vehicles are here to stay.

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59 responses to "Why the Electric Car is Here to Stay"

  1. Aaron says:

    Please stop calling the Volt an EREV. It’s a PHEV. Research the Volt’s three clutches. The Volt is a parallel hybrid. The i3 is a serial hybrid, meaning a true EREV.

    1. David Murray says:

      There is no clear definition of what an EREV is. In my opinion any car that can drive on pure electric power at full speed with full climate control, yet has a gasoline engine for a backup is considered an EREV. EREV has nothing to do with whether the hybrid system is serial or parallel. For all I care, the gasoline engine could drive the rear wheels of the car directly while the electric system drives the front. As long as the car can operate as a pure EV for a set amount of range before the range extender is required, then it qualifies as an EREV.

      I don’t consider the Ford Energi models or the Prius Plug-in to be an EREV because they have limited acceleration in EV mode and I think also limited climate control options.

      1. kdawg says:

        Correct. EREV = Extended Range Electric Vehicle. The Volt is a pure EV for 40 miles. After that a “range extender” kicks in.

        Wasn’t it GM who coined EREV when creating the Volt?

        1. Stuart22 says:

          Yes, it was GM who coined EREV which energized all the GM haters to protest this term. The i3rex should both expose their hypocrisy as well as shut many of them up on this so-called issue.

    2. Mark H says:

      Aaron you are still confusing the newcomers. Let it go.

      1. MMcI says:

        I’m a fan of elegance in simplicity. Don’t really care what term wins, let’s just find consensus on defining a vital few terms and shampoo-rinse-repeat. Personally I suspect using PHEV for any plug-in with petrol on board may not give full “credit” to the admirable Volt architecture choices, but is easier for new users to “get it” quickly.

        1. Mark H says:

          I have to disagree. It is easier to squash them all together when the Volt, ELR, and the BMW i3 offer a totally different driving experience. As customers become more educated they need to understand the difference between a BEV (pure electric) PHEV (plug in hybrid which is not a whole lot different than a regular hybrid) and an EREV that offers pure electric miles for the majority of their driving experience. See David Murray, Kdawg, Vdiv, and Brians comments.

          I don’t really care how the manufacturer achieves this for it certainly will change with technology, but every EREV driver seeks to drive as many miles on electricity as possible. I don’t know how many BMW i3s will be sold but they are going to advance the extender mentality. I am usually pretty agreeable on many issues like waiting for the charging standards to settle, but this terminology is actually pretty important, and it is actually pretty settled except for Aaron. Sorry Aaron, I love ya but you are like Mel Brooks circling your own wagon on this one.

      2. WopOnTour says:

        Besides not knowing what he is talking about.
        It appears he is confused as well ! lol

    3. Rick Danger says:

      For the most part, the Volt is an EREV, and if GM found that, at high speeds, it’s more efficient to let the engine help drive the wheels directly, then that’s a Good Thing, unless the complexity of the drive train leads to costly maintenance and repair.

      1. Mike-o-Matic says:

        To clarify — That ‘straight to the wheels’ clutch arrangement reportedly only happens on a depleted battery. With usable charge remaining, it’s not employed.

    4. Brian says:

      GM decided on this architecture because it is more efficient in charge-sustaining mode. Why do people still hold this against them? It doesn’t affect EV mode, so this should be celebrated as a good thing!

      1. vdiv says:

        Some people are so full of hatred and jealousy towards GM and the Volt that no rationale will change that. Their shortsightedness leads them to compartmentalizing things they do not truly understand. The Volt is a brilliant electric car, whereas others labeled as PHEVs are not so much.

        Get over it, indeed!

    5. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      It might not meet your definition of an EREV, but personally I think lumping it together with all other PHEVs is worse.

      The following is true of every other PHEV on the market, but not the Volt:
      – You are traveling above the maximum EV speed of the vehicle

      The Ford Energis have the following additional condition:
      – You have not selected EV-Now mode and are traveling at speed

      The Volt will not clutch in the engine unless it is _already running the engine_.

    6. Rick says:

      EREV, PHEV, BEV, fuel cell, hydrogen, natural gas, ethanol, flux capacitor, blah blah blah who cares? Eventually, the dust will settle and after a few generations, manufacturers will have perfected the winning technology, or combination of technologies. This happens with every new technology. In fact, it’s already happened with automobiles a hundred years ago. The only difference was that, in addition to gas and electric, we also had steam in the mix. And we will buy it, as long as the price is right and it comes in our favorite color. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time worrying about it, unless you have a couple of decades to waste.

    7. Dr. Kenneth Noisewater says:

      Wrong. Volt can operate entirely serially, except that to do so would be a stupidly wasteful and inefficient way to run in order to satisfy “purists”, and GM wisely decided not to be stupid about that.

      Maybe it’s worth revisiting when range extenders start coming online that cannot be mechanically linked efficiently to the drivetrain (such as microturbines, fuel cells, linear engines with no cranks, etc) but in the meantime, the Volt defines the term GM coined, EREV.

    8. pjwood says:

      The Volt delivers all electric experience throughout its performance range, for the first 40 miles. The only reason this bears repeating, to monotony, is in this case, Aaron.

  2. Mark H says:

    Thanks David, we all should have fun with this one. Some of my favorite responses:

    That’s right, when the gas subsidies go away so will the autos.. oh you meant EV subsidies…

    You mean the fuel cell extender that adds range to the EV….

    Yep 11,000 environmentalist bought an EV last month…

    Man they are expensive. After credits the Volt is selling for 27K and the Leaf for 21K. After that you spend one fourth on refueling. That is unless you go solar and then about one tenth. With solar 170 MPGe really hurts my wallet.

    1. Rick Danger says:


    2. Ocean Railroader says:

      I was able to talk to some people in my area who owned a plug in hybrid and they to me looked like regular people not like the stereotype Environmentalists the EV haters are trying to complain about. They mainly said that their car is great for local driving and other trips.

      1. MTN Ranger says:

        Before I got my Volt, I owned performance luxury cars. The only environmental thing I do is recycle.

        1. Loboc says:

          Same here. But, more performance than luxo.

          – I did not buy Volt to save money because it does not compared to a used car.
          – I did not buy Volt to save the planet because it does not compared to a bicycle.
          – I did not buy Volt to kill OPEC. OPEC will live on and ignore my beliefs since oil is used to do way more than just push gas engines around.

          I bought Volt because I am a techie and it’s a techie car! My cross-shopped cars were Camaro and Challenger NOT a hybrid.

          1. David Murray says:

            Yep – No doubt about it. I love the Volt for its high-tech geek appeal and external appearance. If I wanted to save money I would buy a 2nd gen Prius for around $8,000.

  3. Schmeltz says:

    Good article David. I agree with the points you made. It is interesting to see Tesla as an argument in and of itself for cementing the EV industry into existance.

    In the beginning you mentioned the common arguments against EV’s…I would like to read a future article that thoughtfully debunks each of those arguments you mention. That way we can have a little ammunition if a debate breaks out.

    1. kdawg says:

      I may take that list and put it as a “common myths” tab on my webpage, with each one debunked.

      Another myth is that batteries don’t last, and you’ll have to buy a $10K battery in 5 years.

      1. David Murray says:

        I’ve heard that one too, with a slew of other myths. But I listed those specifically as they are ones that people use to suggest why the EV industry as a whole will eventually fail, where as many of the other myths, such as catching fire, etc, are often used as a reason why a specific person might choose not to buy one.

      2. TeV says:

        GREAT ideas, Schmeltz and kdawg!

        I haven’t scrutinized the homepage since I first started visiting so I don’t know if there’s something like that already, but a ‘common myths’ tab with the various facts that debunk them is long overdue!

        It would be the quickest way to educate newcomers to the site, and hopefully it could be keyworded out the yin-yang to draw as many searches as possible!

    2. Brian says:

      They’ve all been debunked many times. Just search for “Electric Vehicle Myths”.

    3. KenZ says:

      Well, to be fair, the first argument against them is not entirely baseless. For the gassers, it becomes a race to see how fast they can get to something above, say, 80mpg. Even above 50mpg, people become a lot more price insensitive to gas costs. This is because a given person drives a limited number of miles a year. Let’s say it’s 15,000 miles, and they switch from a 25mpg vehicle to a 75mpg one (work with me here; we’re talking now vs. the future). Here are your yearly costs at $5 and $10/gal

      $5/gal = $3000
      $10/gal = $6000

      $5/gal = $1000
      $10/gal = $2000 (less than $5/gal at 25mpg!)

      So the higher the MPG goes, the more price insensitive people become to gas. And yeah, I get the oil change/transmission/coolant costs savings, blah blah blah. But to just dismiss this is an invalid argument misses a critical part of the economic equation. We are in a battle here, and one must understand the enemy! Give them their due.

      Now don’t get me wrong, I’m in total favor of increased gasser mpg. Every bit helps. I would LOVE to see some future non-plug Prius hit 75mpg. In fact, it simply helps us push each other. (Fair) competition is a good thing for everyone.

  4. kdawg says:

    The EV’s best friend will be higher gas prices, either due to market price or increases in taxes.

    1. Spec says:

      Yep. Although we can trumpet every nice EV innovation that comes down the pike, the biggest reason EVs will grow and prosper is that oil is a finite commodity that we literally burn up. The $20/barrel oil days are gone forever . . . they are literally history now.

    2. Anderlan says:

      Yes. The threat of a carbon price *does* loom large in executives’ minds, as the threat of the end of civilization as we know it by the end of the century looms over anyone the least bit tuned into science.

  5. Ocean Railroader says:

    I think they could possibly be here to stay but they are not out of the woods in till they become as a common as a Prius in a Virginia Parking lot where you never see a parking lot without one. If a plug in car can do well in Virginia and become common it can make it anywhere.

    My question though is the places where the plug in cars are very common are they starting to over flow out of their starting habitat and starting to take on more territory in areas around the cities and towns which are like their starting strong holds or are they setting up new strong holds in areas that are very far away from their starting strong holds. Such as I believe if they are common in San Fransisco then the places around that city would start having them spill into them. Instead of them say turning San Fransisco into a strong hold and then popping up in Miami.

    1. Mark H says:

      Good points and if statistics are any indication then the future is bright for the first four years of the EV adoption curve is still quite ahead of the the first four years of hybrids. The only difference being the numbers are spread better over several manufacturers and that is a good thing.

      I live in a smallish North Carolina town of 70,000. As for my personal sightings I attended an event last month where I parked my red Volt beside a white Volt and a blue one. (very patriotic colors). Have also sighted couple of silver and black ones. A lot more Volt sightings here but move over one state to TN and you are starting to see predominant Leafs. So yeah they are starting to pop up between San Fran and Miami.
      Also a few Tesla Model S sightings in the Charlotte area.

      1. Rick says:

        You know EVs are still rare when even proponents refer to seeing one as a “sighting”, sorta like seeing a UFO. 🙂

        1. Mark H says:

          So true, and worse we are looking! There is no other word, it’s an obsession!

          1. Rick says:

            I think I saw a Tesla once, but it might have been a Jaguar.

        2. Ocean Railroader says:

          I have seen a red volt on the highway and a white plug in Prius as my first EV car. I once saw a Nissan Leaf at a local dears hip and was able to sit behind the wheel of it. I have also seen a Ford plug in C max.

          But I have never seen a Tesla model S in a parking lot or on the highway or a Nissan Leaf on a highway or in a parking lot.

      2. Spec says:

        I cannot leave my home without seeing multiple plug-in vehicles.

        1. Assaf says:

          Since getting our Leaf barely a year ago, the “sighting situation” has evolved as follows:

          Fall 2012 – “wow! We saw another Leaf on our way today!”
          Spring 2013 – “At what point in our drive will an ‘other Leaf’ pop up? Seems like it always does.”
          Fall 2013 – “Who wants to wager on how many Leafs we see on our way? I’m betting on 4.”

          These are typically 5-20 minute drives around Seattle. It is now also fairly common to spot a Tesla or a Volt on those drives, although both are a bit less sticking out than the Leaf so they’re probably under-counted.

          It has become less of a “sighting” event, and more of a sense that “we’re taking over, we’re everywhere now”.

          Soon to arrive to your town too…

          1. Loboc says:

            LEAF is the new pinch-bug slug-bug.

            1. David Murray says:

              That’s funny. I almost forgot about that. Yeah, in the 1980’s here in Texas we did “Slug Bug” but I saw something similar on the Simpsons once but they called it “Punch Buggy” so I don’t know if maybe a different geographical area called it something different.

    2. ItsNotAboutTheMoney says:

      They don’t need to “be” common. They just need to get “cheaper”. Then they’ll become bigger sellers than HEVs will ever be.

      1. Assaf says:

        In terms of cost-of-ownership, the Leaf is already cheaper than comparable ICE cars for those whose driving needs it meets, and who can add 1 and 1.

        1. Ocean Railroader says:

          What would really speed up sales is if the range was raised from 80 miles to 130 miles on a charge in that it would open up the doors to a lot of people who have rural to suburban commutes who have to drive 50 miles one way but don’t have a charger at work.

  6. Good article David. I agree with your two main reasons for the inevitability of EVs, although I will add one more. The energy density of battery chemistry continues at a steady pace, doubling about every 7 years. It’s also getting cheaper by at least that much. Breakthroughs will only accelerate that trend.

    The same is not happening for ICEs. It is very unlikely to happen given the maturity of the technology and anticipated improvements.

    Pure EVs are much simpler to build, which is one reason Tesla decided to not make a PHEV.

    Within the next few years, it will be cheaper to build EVs that have sufficient range that ICEs will have no advantage.

    1. Ocean Railroader says:

      I think what has happened is after a 100 years Ice as topped out much in the same way steam locomotives and open wire telephone lines reached their peak and power in the 1940’s and 1950’s in that there was only so much that they could do with existing Ice engines before another tech was able to come in and replace it. The regular Prius or the gas cars that get 50 miles a gallon and have 500 horse power could be viewed as the peak of this tech.

  7. Assaf says:

    David hi,

    Thanks for the post. I wanted to add a resource to counter the canard of “The only people that buy them are environmentalists and eventually they’ll realize they’re being scammed because EVs are dirtier than gasoline cars.”

    I just examined the point at length, it is pure baloney. Existing knowledge already indicates EVs on average emit less GHG on a life-cycle basis than the best of hybrids – and the gap in EVs’ favor will continue to increase.

    After I finish the second part, I will send a story summarizing to them to this site’s editors.

  8. scott moore says:

    Good article, one comment on all of this:

    The gas mileage on plug in hybrids is completely fictional. Hang on a minute before you get mad. They are rating the volt and other plug ins by the mileage you get when you have charged up all night, then adding those electric miles into the mix with your gas mileage. Its the same idea of giving a pure electric car an “MPG” rating. There is no such thing. EVs don’t use gas, and don’t have an equivalent mileage.

    The point is, if we get to “75 MPG”, or any other number like that, its going to be based on using an electric car for some of the “mileage”, then gas for the rest. Meaning that whatever
    happens, whatever kind of hybrid is being sold, its going to look increasingly like a pure electric car.

  9. MDEV says:

    Yes Virginia is full of Prius and Leaf, we are a Tea Party state and even here the people started to think “if I see so many should be a good car” TESLA is a symbol of what a EV can do, way better than ICE, that is what Tesla is about, so yes it is in the rank of luxury, but is proven technology, is just question of time for trickle down to a more affordable model.

  10. pjwood says:

    Sad article considering electrics have been cheaper to operate, for some time, and people simply need to get comfortable with it. No need to go off echoing “CARB”, like the Wall Street Journal. They have fewer parts, cheaper fuel. Remember? Cheer up.

  11. Oil is finite.

    We are obviously beyond peak oil. Because why else would we be putting in the extraordinary effort to get tar sands bitumen and deep water drilling and Arctic exploration?

    Electricity can come from at least six different renewable sources (solar PV and solar heat, wind, tidal, wave, biomass, and geothermal – and throw in small scale hydro like from rooftop collection) and add in pumped hydro storage and biogas storage, and compressed air stored underground, and molten salt storage for solar heat systems, and there is nothing holding us back from going 100% renewable energy.

    Renewable energy will last as long as the sun does – about another 5 Billion years.

    That is one huge reason to switch from oil to renewable energy.
    Another huge reason is the switching would begin to mitigate climate change.

    We have all the reasons in the world for why electric cars are the future.


    1. Spec says:

      We are beyond peak conventional oil but there is an awful lot of nonconventional oil out there. I don’t think we are at peak oil yet. I think we have a few years of slow growth and rising prices. Maybe even a decade or more. But the price of oil is never gonna be cheap again.

      1. Tesla Fan says:

        oil sucks

  12. Robert says:

    We’ve seen the switch from one energy source to another a few times in history.

    The discovery and switch from wood to coal fuelled the first industrial revolution, due to coal’s energy density being about 3 times that of wood. It was also cheaper to transport to point of use. Had that discovery not been made its doubtful the first IR would have panned out the way it did.

    Right now, in my opinion we’re at the start of another revolution. And thankfully one that is jumping from burning fuel for energy, to one that is not and I believe and naturally hope our air will get cleaner over this revolution.

    We’re starting to turn from energy hunters to energy farmers. Another great comparison: What happened when we did that with food? Humans were able to better nourish themselves, we all breathed a sigh of relief, the population rose (then we got fat – that’s where the comparison ends).

    Once again we’re discovering technologies and harnessing them to work for us, just like the first IR. That brings with it convenience and time savings etc. hopefully leaving man free to work on other things, like discovering space, or cleaning up the mess we already made on earth, or providing education for all humans. I’ll be happy to just see the air get cleaner and to still be able to ski when I’m old though.

    In short, electricity is a horse that has not yet been broken. When we get that horse under control (increased PV efficiencies, and higher battery densities, both available to the masses), then I’m sure humans will then reach a higher level of civilisation. Fossil fuels will not even be in our consciousness. They will seem just as prehistoric as going out to gather wood to cook dinner does now.

    Just my thoughts. Cheers!

  13. ken says:

    Read this morning that Chevy has a new EV on the drawing board. They talked about the proposed range of either 100 or 200 hundred miles and it would be larger than the present Spark EV. It is to be built on its own frame, not one that has been converted from some other chassis. Hope the US ends the need for oil imports and invest those funds in our own economy.

  14. Jeff says:

    Great article. Thanks.

    Many people have stated this points, but the clear trends in the world/economy/market that will make EV’s stick around (unless better technology–dilithium chrystals–pops up) are:

    * Fossil fuel is finite. It’s only getter more expensive by the gallon or by the carbon tax. Even if gasoline engines improve, over time they are a losing technology. On the pollution side, this may become a primary factor: It wouldn’t surprise me at all if China mandated that all vehicles are electric at some point, just to reduce pollution.

    * Electric car technology–particularly battery technology–is just starting up the technology curve. As someone else said, battery technology is doubling every seven years–I actually heard it was faster than that. Much like Moore’s law for processor technology, mileage is going to increase and production costs are going to decrease, making better performing cars for less money.

    * One comment that I didn’t hear: Tesla’s are cool! It’s like having the next iPhone. When the ‘s’ came out, there was a rush in the more affluent of my friends and neighbors to rush out and get one. When “the cool kids” are buying electric–regardless of whether they are environmentalists–and bragging about the smooth acceleration and high torque curve, we’re beyond a niche market of tree-huggers.

    My bet: In 5 years, EVs get 300 miles per charge (like most ICE car range), perform better than an ICE car (better acceleration, lighter, less parts, less maintenance), and cost the same or less.

    Furthermore, I predict that when we converge on a “standard design” someone will figure out (many people working on this) a modular battery design that you can pull into a service station, “buy a new battery” (trade old one), and drive off for an extra 300 miles (or so.)

  15. Jeff says:

    My ford energi serves my needs quite well. I drive in ev mode to work (17 miles). I charge FREE at work and then drive home all using electricity only. My current composite mileage is 137 mpg. At 55 mph I get 47 mpg. My lifetime mpg is 50.6 mpg this includes 7000 interstate miles. Short trips to the supermarket never use gasoline.

    Call it what you wish I am happy.

    1. VoltOwner says:

      That sounds pretty good!

    2. Robert says:

      Where’s the like button? 🙂