Obama’s 1 Million EV Goal Slipping Away

In his 2011 State of the Union speech, President Obama vowed that there would be 1 million electric cars on America’s roads by 2015.  Unfortunately, it appears that this will not be the case, and last January the U.S. Department of Energy lowered the bar. Speaking with reporters in advance of Energy Secretary Steven Chu’s address at the Washington D.C. auto show that month, an Energy Department official told reporters, “Whether we meet that goal in 2015 or 2016, that’s less important than that we’re on the right path to get many millions of these vehicles on the road.”

Low U.S. demand for electric and hybrid vehicles has been blamed on a number of factors. EVs remain relatively expensive compared to most traditional gas- and diesel-powered vehicles.  Dramatic advances in internal combustion engine technology, like the Ford EcoBoost engine, squeeze more miles from a gallon of gasoline. And, finally, American’s still suffer from “range anxiety” – the fear of being stranded on the roadside with a dead EV battery.

In 2012, a mere 488,000 all-electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles were sold in the U.S.  According to Hybridcars.com, alternative energy vehicles accounted for only 3.3 percent of the overall U.S. auto market last year. In order to meet the Obama administration’s original 1 million electric vehicle goal by 2015, that number would have to nearly double, to 6 percent of what auto consulting firm Polk Automotive predicts will be a 16.2 million vehicle market in 2015.

On the other hand, some experts predict Germany will reach its goal of 1 million EVs on the road by the year 2020.

According to a recent Earthteachling.com article, “hybrid engines will make up about 8 percent of German vehicles, or 4 million of an estimated 47 million cars, in 2020. This is followed by electric engines with approximately 3.9 percent, or 1.8 million vehicles, including plug-in hybrids whose batteries can also be charged via the national grid. Experts estimate that fuel cell vehicles could achieve a market share of 1.3 percent, which would amount to nearly 600,000 vehicles. Including gas-driven vehicles, alternative drive trains would thus number 8.4 million by 2020, a market share of around 18 percent.”

German automakers are expected to launch a number of new electric vehicles over the next few years as they race to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s goal.   Some skeptics, including Roland Berger Consultancy partner Thomas Schlick, doubt that the goal will be achieved.  “After the politically driven hype that we’ll soon all drive electric cars, “said Schlick, “there’s a certain letdown. There won’t be a sudden jump, but a gradual evolution, just as with every new technology.”

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