Electric Currents

OMG! America Hasn't Reached 1 Million Plug-In Cars

Jan 23, 2016

One of President Obama's stated goals during his first term was to see a million electric-drive cars on the nation's streets and roads by 2015. Well, that year's come and gone and we aren't even close. So..?

President Obama inspects Chevy Bolt electric car

Man, there's a lot of angst and finger waging going on just now about the fact that the United States didn't reach President Obama's 2011 SOTU goal of putting a million electric-drive cars on the road by 2015. By best estimate, we're at about 40% of that goal, somewhere around 400,000 plug-ins and pure-electrics. Somehow, the President failed it's implied.

Has he, really?

Consider that the first serious, consumer-affordable plug-ins didn't actually hit show rooms until early 2011 in the form of the Chevrolet Volt and the Nissan LEAF, both priced at the time between $35-40,000. Those prices have dropped moderately since into the sub-$30k range after federal and state tax incentives. Prior to 2010, there were virtually no public charging stations anywhere in America. The few that were leftovers from the California ZEV mandate period of the late 1990s were mostly inoperative. Today there are, by US DoE calculation more than 12,000 public charging stations and more than 30,000 charging outlets, the later presumably a mix of 120V and 240V plugs. More are continually being added by private entities like Tesla's Supercharger network and by private-public consortiums, as well as local governments and businesses for their employees.

During the Obama administration, the price of batteries has plummeted, as the Nature Climate Change graph below attests. At present rates, we should hit the target $150kWh by 2020.

By the start of Obama's second term, the only electric car with a range greater than 200 miles was the $90,000 Tesla Models S. About the time the next president takes the oath of office a year from now, the Chevrolet Bolt will go on sales for one-third that number while offering 200 miles driving range.

Virtually every major automobile manufacturer in the world is now promising many more models of hybrid, plug-in, and pure electric models. Just this week, Russian President Vladimir Putin issued their equivalent of an executive order instructing his government to take all necessary steps to modernize the Russian auto industry, including focusing on the development and production of electric vehicles. Volkswagen is promising upwards of 10 new models with electric-drive. Mercedes is making similar promises. So are Audi and BMW. Most of the major Chinese car companies are rolling out EV models with the top seller today being BYD's Qin plug-in with 30,000 sold just last year.

It would be the height of hubris to say President Obama was responsible for all this, but it's clear that his policies, like the 55-mpg fuel economy standard, have had a major impact on driving innovation, which in turn has spurred global competition. Consider that at the end of the Clinton Administration, there were only a few thousand EVs in the entirety of the United States and virtually all of them were in California where the majority were eventually recalled and crushed. Throughout the entirety of the 8 years of the Bush II Administration, there were even fewer EVs than during the previous administration and most of those were million dollar-plus fuel cell prototypes. The only outstanding EV during the Bush II White House was the Tesla Roadster and a total of just 2,500 were built and sold.

400,000 is a damned sight more impressive! Yes, low oil prices are hurting EV sales as Americans enjoy savings at the pump they haven't seen in years. But slowed sales hasn't impacted the long-term outlook for electric-drive vehicles. Consumer memories might be short, but carmakers have to take the long view and that long view says the future is electric.

So, I don't know about you, but compared to where we were when I launched EV World in 1998, we've come a very long ways. Okay, I'll have to wait for the 1 million EV milestone to occur in the next President's term, but it'll happen. Too much has changed, too much technological progress has occurred. The world has gotten a taste of what its like to drive electric and there's no going back now.

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