Dear EarthTalk: In his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama called for a million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015. How likely is it that we'll attain that goal?
--Jerry Mitlitski, Salem, OR
"We can break our dependence on oil ... and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015," President Obama said in his January 2011 State of the Union address. "The future is ours to win."
It's difficult to say how likely such an arbitrary goal might be, but green leaders and others are optimistic. The waiting list for the new electric Nissan Leaf, rolling off the factory floor as we speak, is some 20,000 Americans long. The auto industry expects similar demand for other new electric and plug-in hybrid cars hitting U.S. roads this year and next from General Motors, Ford, Toyota, Mitsubishi and others.
Of course, the Obama administration realizes that attaining such a goal will be impossible without help from the federal government. To that end, consumers and businesses can get tax credits worth up to $7,500 on the purchase of each new electric vehicle (EV). The feds have also committed $2.4 billion for research and development into improving EV batteries, and another $115 million for the installation of EV charging infrastructure in 16 different metro areas around the country--not to mention some $300 million in clean cities grants to dozens of American communities working to reduce petroleum use, and the $25 billion being doled out to help U.S. automakers retool. So much federal involvement has helped spur state governments and private industry to make significant investments in the EV sector as well.
But even with all this funding, a million EVs on the road by 2015 may still be just a pipe dream. James Sweeney of Stanford University's Precourt Energy Efficiency Center calls the plan "very aggressive." He reasons that it took over a decade for hybrids--which "did not require any difference in...