United States on the Way to Reaching 1 Million Electric Vehicles by 2015

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According to the Department of Energy, the United States is on track to having one million electric vehicles in use by 2015, the goal established by President Obama during his 2008 presidential campaign.

The reaffirmation came from David Sandalow, Assistant Energy Secretary, following his keynote speech in Detroit to the Society of Automotive Engineers.

Speaking to reporters, Sandalow stated, “”The pace of innovation in this industry is extraordinary…If you look at the plans of the major automotive manufacturers, there’s a clear pathway to a million vehicles.”

The President has often subsequently reiterated the goal, including mentioning it in this year’s State of the Union address. “With more research and incentives, we can break our dependence on oil with biofuels, and become the first country to have one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015,” he said.

Across the industry, demand for electric vehicles remains high. According to General Motors Spokesperson Robert Peterson, plans to produce and sell 10,000 Chevy Volts this year remain on track, with this number rising to 45,000 by 2012.

The Nissan LEAF also remains extremely popular, with the 20,000 cars already reserved in the US currently exceeding available supply. According to Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of Renault-Nissan, sales of the LEAF are expected to reach 300,000 globally within three years. Ford expects to produce 10,000 – 20,000 units of its Focus Electric car annually, scheduled for release later this year.

President Obama has sought to bolster private sector sales with a number of government incentives, including a proposed $7,500 consumer tax credit in his fiscal year 2012 budget, research and development funding to generate innovations in battery technology, and grants for up to 30 communities which embrace electric vehicles. Obama has also called upon Congress to develop policies in support of innovations in natural gas vehicles.

The Obama administration has also sought to reform the Federal government’s fleet, calling upon government agencies to set 2015 as the year by which all new vehicle purchases will be electric or alternative-fuel powered.

According to the Department of Energy, the number of vehicles operated by the federal government currently surpasses 600,000. To date, steps taken under the Obama administration have already led to the doubling of hybrid and electric vehicles in this fleet.

The Obama administration has also taken measures to encourage the utilization of electric and hybrid vehicles among commercial fleets. The National Clean Fleets Partnership pairs the Department of Energy with five corporations – AT&T, FedEx, PepsiCo, UPS and Verizon – in a bid to reduce both fuel consumption and the number of gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles on the road.

Currently, the fleets of the five corporations collectively comprise over 275,000 vehicles.  The Department of Energy will assist these corporations in introducing 20,000 alternative fuel vehicles into their fleets, which will also reduce their petroleum consumption by 7 million gallons annually.

The Department of Energy hopes to expand the partnership to include other companies, seeking to help replace the 3 million gasoline-powered commercial fleet vehicles currently in use with alternative energy vehicles.

Critics remain skeptical of the President’s goal, however, citing the often limited range of electric vehicles, prohibitive cost of batteries, high sale price, and niche demand as deterrents to widespread use. Based on current sales of hybrid vehicles, the Center for Automotive Research estimates that closer to 469,000 electric cars will be in circulation by 2015.

Cuts to the Department of Energy’s budget may also present difficulties, with incentive and R & D programs likely to suffer. However, the Department of Energy has indicated that reductions in funding will not affect its commitment to promoting energy efficiency. 

“We will march forward aggressively to promote clean energy and we’ve got the budget to do it,” Sandalow stated.

Photo Credit: http://www.whitehouse.gov/assets/images/electric_car_blog.jpg

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