Revisiting Obama's Goal of 1 Million Electric Cars
Now that the 2012 presidential election is in the rearview mirror, the use of electric cars as a political football should subside. There will be fewer opportunities and reasons for finger pointing about economic stimulus funding supposedly wasted on Tesla, Fisker and EV battery companies. And we can take a more sober look at President Obama’s goal to put 1 million plug-in cars on U.S. roads in the next few years.
On Monday, University of Michigan researchers said that new cars and light trucks sold in the United States in October had the highest average fuel economy ever recorded on American vehicles—24.1 mpg combined. This can be directly tied to President Obama’s efficiency and environmental policies. As a result of the Obama Administration programs, the American auto industry is now on solid footing, and the average fuel economy of our cars is headed to 54.5 mpg by 2025. (This translates to window stickers on more cars every year getting 40 miles per gallon or higher).
Electric cars will play an increasingly important role in reducing how much oil our cars and trucks consume. At the same time, wildly optimistic goals for EVs—based more on inspiration and aspiration rather than market realities—can be reevaluated according to real-world experience. The Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt have been on the market for nearly two years. We don’t have to guess how consumers will respond, or what the daily experiences of driving and charging might be. We have tens of thousands of electric cars and plug-in hybrids on our roads, with nearly 40,000 added so far in 2012. Unprecedented numbers of people are living with the realities (not just the concept) of driving an electric car.
Let’s be clear. We will not reach President Obama’s goal of putting 1 million plug-in cars on U.S. roads by 2015. According to Pike Research and others, it’s more likely to be reached by 2017 or even 2018. This reflects a transition from a soaring rhetorical hope to a pragmatic hope. The rate of EV sales—and the rate at which EV charging infrastructure is installed—has proven slower than some might have thought when President Obama first took office and EVs were just starting to roll out.
Post-election, the level of pro-EV hype, as well as the groundless anti-EV attacks, can be pushed to the margins. As President Obama makes a transition into a second term, American consumers can take a fresh and more reasonable assessment of the pros and cons of electric cars and plug-in hybrids. EVs will not work for everybody. However, the distance that EVs can travel on a single charge and the number of public locations for charging will grow. Costs will slowly come down. The number of models, and the diversity of brands, sizes and styles, will expand.
We still don’t know exactly when we’ll have 1 million plug-in cars on our streets. But now, more than ever before, we know about the challenges in reaching that goal. At the same time, we can say with certainty that battery-powered cars—using increasingly clean grid-supplied energy—will continue to grow in popularity. EVs are here to stay.
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