Ask the Experts: 1 Million EVs by 2015?

The US already has more than a million hybrid-electric vehicles on the road. (Photo: Craig Miller)

Continuing an exercise I started in yesterday’s post, I’ve asked a few experts to weigh in on two national goals laid out by President Obama in this week’s State of the Union address. The experts seemed split on the viability of getting 80% of the nation’s electricity from “clean energy” by 2035. Today they address Obama’s call for one million electric vehicles “on the road” by 2015 (less than five years from now):

Dan Kammen, renewable energy “czar” at the World Bank:

This will be seen as a real challenge given the global demand for EVs and the low current production levels.  However, some individual states are already formulating [goals for  more than] 100,000 EV by 2015, so while a true, true stretch, [needing] a strong support platform of production and market pull, this is a worthy goal, if not a challenging and exiting one.  China internally is pursuing similar targets.

James Sweeney, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford:

One million electric vehicles on the the road by 2015 is very aggressive and is unlikely to occur unless the US very heavily subsidizes their purchase.  New auto sales in the U.S. is currently about 6 million passenger cars and about an equal number of light duty trucks, such as SUVs and pickups.  It is unlikely that the light duty vehicles will be electric (hybrids are not considered electric in this discussion because the primary source of energy is a liquid fuel.) Thus over the four year time period “by 2015″, there may be 25 million sales if sales do not increase, and maybe 30 million with some growth. It is unlikely in that time that the market share could be as large as 3% even by the end of the time period. Thus the average over that time period is unlikely to be as large as 1.5% of the sales.  Remember, it took many years for hybrid electrics to reach 3% market share.  And they did not require any difference in infrastructure and had as great a range as conventional vehicles, neither of which is likely to be the case with electric vehicles.  If the average were 1.5% of market share, then there would be fewer than 1/2 a million on the road by 2015.

Even with a large subsidy, it would be very hard to move to such a large market share that quickly.  Of course, with a large enough government expenditure through subsidizing car purchases — e.g. a tax write off of 90% of the car cost — you could induce many electric vehicle purchases.

As Sweeney points out, assessing both goals runs into the same trouble with definitions:

Finally, President Obama did not define the concept of “electric vehicles.”  If he actually was including tiny electrically propelled vehicles — golf carts or the equivalent — then all bets are off.  However, I assume that he meant vehicles that the normal person would call cars or trucks.

There are already more than a million gas-electric hybrids on US roads. Presumably the President was referring to “all-electric” vehicles.

I’ll post additional replies as they come in.