Revisiting Obama's Goal of 1 Million Electric Cars

By · November 07, 2012

Obama leans on EV batteries

President Barack Obama leans on a rechargeable battery during a tour of Smith Electric Vehicles in Kansas City, Mo. July 8, 2010. (Official White House Photo)

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.


· · 5 years ago

Great summary of the current EV situation Mr. Berman.

· · 5 years ago

To be fair, and to give credit where credit is due - many of the vehicles which have pushed the fleet average economy higher were vehicles that development was started under the Bush administration. G.W.Bush did pass some fuel economy increase requirements - not all of the credit should go to Obama. Politically it does us no good to try and be too partisan. However I believe that the bigger thing is the *continuing* of these efforts, as I feel the Republican platforms were oriented towards moving backward instead of forward with regard to EVs and fuel/emissions improvements. It takes a long time to develop a new vehicle platform, some times the results are not seen for half a decade or more. Look at hybrids - they are *just now* starting to be a major part of the American vehicle landscape - after more than a decade. There are a ton of improvements in vehicle technology which will get us further, things like start-stop, ultra-capacitors, and new construction and design methods. They all take time - so unfortunately much of what Obama does in this regard will not even be relevant until after his second term has come to a close...

· EMAX (not verified) · 5 years ago

I give credit to the Obama team for the existence of Solar panels on my roof and a Ford C-Max Energi in my garage. I would not have bought the Solar panels without the federal tax credits for solar panel installation, My solar panels supply enough electricity per year to equal the electricity energy needed for my 1600 square foot ranch home as well as approximately 11,000 all electric miles of driving in this car, . Without having the solar panel "clean" energy source, along with the federal tax credit for electric cars, we probably would not have bought a Plug-in vehicle.

Without a clean energy source I probably would have gone with a gas/electric hybrid vehicle since Michigan's dirty coal electricity production doesn't equate to less pollution for an all electric vehicle vs. a hybrid gasoline vehicle like the Prius.

Also, the decision to buy a plug-in was based on a cost comparison with a compact gasoline engine powered car. The C-Max Energii, including assumptions of keeping the vehicle for 11 years, $4.00/gallon gasoline, $0.123/KWh electricity, and driving it 11K miles electric/year and 7K miles hybrid gas/electric/year, The federal tax credit on this vehicle was a significant reason why the operating cost was approximately $0.32/mile average over the 11 year assumed life of the vehicle. which was only a fraction of a cent higher than the Toyota Corolla to which I compared it.

So Obama made it happen for us.

It was very disappointing to see Michigan's proposal 3, the proposal requiring the state to produce its energy using 25% renewable energy sources by 2025, go down in flames in yesterday's election. A missed opportunity to make an urgently needed shift away from burning fossil fuels. :(

· · 5 years ago


Congrats on the C-Max Energi. I can't wait to read some real-world experience about them (is 20 miles electric realistic, or is it like the Leaf's "100" miles? Does it, like the Volt, turn on the engine for heat when the temperature gets too low? etc), let alone get a chance to drive one myself. Also, congrats on the solar panels. Solar + EV is a wonderful (and powerful) combination!

I would like to point out, however, that the tax credit you cite as your enabler was signed into law in 2006. That, too, was under George W. Bush, not Obama. Obama simply didn't remove it form the books.

· · 5 years ago

I have an Energi on order also. However my decision has nothing to do with Obama, and I rent and cannot install solar panels. However in the NW we have a lot of cleaner energy than may other places, and even from pure coal electricity EVs make better use of energy, and it's domestic to boot.

@Brian: My test drive experience says the 20 miles is realistic - however we will see very soon how well it holds up to our actual drive patterns. We do have a lot of hills though... Yes, the engine will turn on to run the defrost when it is too cold.

My main point is not to start a political war - just to simply give credit where credit is due and to be historically accurate.

· John (not verified) · 5 years ago

EMAX - I had my solar panels and received the tax credit before Obama was in office! That wasn't his doing... It was George Bush's government.

· Gary Krysztopik (not verified) · 5 years ago

I've got a plan - it's called the "EZ-EV". It's a simple open source electric kit car project that I'm about to launch on IndieGoGo (a crowdfunding site). If I can complete the new design (based on one that I've already built) then anyone with $10K for a CNC machine can become a manufacturer and these EV's can be produced in every city and town around the world. Instead of using large centralized manufacturing and then shipping vehicles around the world, we can use today's technology to create thousands of local manufacturers overnight. That's my plan and I'm sticking to it ;<}

· Spike Lewis (not verified) · 5 years ago

Want to get 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015? Then we're going to need to revisit the "private and local government fleet rule" of EPAct -- but no one's asking me. :)

· Spike Lewis (not verified) · 5 years ago

Want to get 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015? Then we're going to need to revisit the "private and local government fleet rule" of EPAct -- but no one's asking me. :)

· Richard Poor (not verified) · 5 years ago

Glad to see some credit to GWB altho he didn't push it and I only hope the T party does not end support for the cleanest, fastest way to genuine energy independence and reduced pollution.

In DFW TX, a $8000 PV array will charge a C-MAX Energi for 20 miles per day and easily hold up for 30 years.

That's less expensive than gasoline. As in less than 75 cents per day or 3.6 cents per mile!

· · 5 years ago

Every month we recieve new numbers of Tesla increasing production slowly, the high success of the VOLT and increasingly success of the LEAF and Plug-in Prius. I see this number continuing or doubling each month as the Accord Plug-In and other mid size sedans are pushed out. It will become more adopted by the rest of the population and when people have that sense of comfort with the plug-in hybrids they will soon find out they really DONT drive that much and rarely need over 100miles for normal commuting. While they can go further on electric if they take a small portion of their day to set aside and get a small charge. Plugshare and other EV Charging station applications will continue to help ease the anxiety and stress of range when they open their eyes and look for charge stations or establishments who allow them to plug in food and a gas station.

I'd say we come close to the end of the next 4 years almost meeting the goal of 1million EV's on the road (including the plug-in hybrids)

· Anonymous (not verified) · 5 years ago

The problem is that we haven't yet seen the first affordable EV with a small serial range extender on the market in the sense of something like an Audi E-tron. That is the real game changing car that can make millions numbers, but we are still waiting for it.

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