would agree that U.S. President Barack Obama's goal of having 1
million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 is ambitious. But
with the first modern electric vehicles like the 2011 Chevy Volt and 2011
Nissan LEAF EV selling out their low-volume of
pre-orders, and with competitors like Ford and Tesla Motor Company waiting in
the wings with upcoming
offerings, it seems possible.
However, a panel of government, industry, and academic experts opines that
despite that optimism, the goal is likely impossible to be reached without
major changes. The panel was held at Indiana University's School of Public and
Environmental Affairs in Bloomington Indiana.
The panel's report is entitled "Plug–In
Electric Vehicles: A Practical Plan for Progress" [PDF].
John D. Graham, Dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU
sums up the report's sentiments, stating [press release],
"President Obama’s dream is appealing and it may be achievable, but there
are big barriers to overcome before the mass commercialization of electric
vehicles will occur."
To put things in perspective, at expected 2015 volumes, 1 million electric
vehicles would likely be around 0.4 percent of the vehicles on American
streets, at most.
Some environmental groups were quick to attack the report. Roland Hwang a
San Francisco-based blogger [blog] with the National
Resources Defense Council's Transportation Program is cited by The
Detroit News as stating that the figure is feasible.
Whether or not environmentalists like Mr. Hwang realize it, the report is
likely less of an effort to knock EVs, but more of an effort to appeal to the
government and public for more funding. That is evident by the fact that
the panel responsible for the report contained representatives from Ford (who
is preparing an EV), from the Center for Automotive Research (an
industry group whose reports have argued that the government needs to provide
greater funding to meet fuel efficiency targets), and the International Council on
Clean Transportation (a global warming advocacy group).
Many of the panel's members seem designed towards this end; take the panel's
chairman, former Ford Motor Company executive Gurminder Bedi comment --
"A successful national program for electric vehicles will require an
unusual degree of cooperation between industry and government, and a clear
focus on the needs and concerns of consumers."
The report does offer some seemingly accurate insight into some of the critical
problems/challenges facing EVs -- namely high costs and the question of
consumer confidence (resale value/reliability).
Regardless of the accuracy of the pressing need for more government funding of
EVs, these groups are walking a dangerous tightrope. As the saying goes
"the squeaky wheel gets the grease" and if they don't lobby, they
will likely miss out on a promising business opportunity. On the other
hand, if they lobby too hard, they risk alienating the U.S. public and facing
backlash from the U.S government.
The report comes at an opportune time, when President Obama and Vice President
Joe Biden are trying to push
a new EV incentives bill through U.S. Congress, which would, among
other things, change the $7,500 tax credit to an instant refund and expand the
quota of EV refunds per automaker. The bill, sponsored by Michigan
Senator Carl Levin (D) would cost taxpayers $19B USD over 10 years.
In that regard, what on the surface might appear a report running counter to
the Obama administration's vision, is likely a calculated effort on the
administration and auto industry's behalf to try to sell the need for more
funding for "green vehicles" to members of Congress and to the