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Summary:

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report Tuesday that outlines how President Obama will achieve his goal of seeing 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. The answer: combine the stimulus funding, with fuel economy standards, and more incentives.

Nissan's LEAF

The U.S. Department of Energy issued a report Tuesday outlining how President Obama will reach the goal of 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. The answer: basically combine the stimulus package funding for auto and battery technology with the fuel economy standards and add in some more incentives.

How doable is his plan? Analysts and researchers are predicting similar — albeit somewhat lower — figures without much more government support. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted late last year that there could be 1.6 million plug-in cars on the road by 2020, and 4 million by 2030.

The Obama administration has seeded the next-generation of a greener auto industry though the stimulus package, and announced loans of $2.4 billion to three electric car factories and grants of $2 billion to build batteries, motors and other components in 30 factories. The goals are to build enough production capacities to churn out 50,000 car batteries by the end of 2011 and 500,000 of them per year by the end of 2014. The stimulus also put up $400 million for charging station installations and projects to test how well electric cars can fit into consumers’ existing driving habits and lifestyle.

The report notes that non plug-in hybrid cars such as the Toyota Prius account for nearly 3 percent of the passenger car sales, and 1.6 million of them have been sold in the past six years. To sell 1 million plug-in hybrid and all-electric cars by 2015 (cumulatively), carmakers will have to sell about 200,000 each year starting in 2011. General Motors, Nissan, Tesla Motors, Ford, Fisker Automotive, Think City and Smith Electric Vehicles are already producing cars this year and Honda, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Volvo have plans to launch electric cars by 2015.

Fuel economy standards alone, implemented in 2009, could nudge carmakers to invest and roll out electric cars. The DOE’s assistant secretary for policy and international affairs David Sandalow commented briefly on fuel economy standards saying: “It reminds me of a famous saying from Wayne Gretzky: you skate to where the puck is going. In this industry, it means investing in advanced technologies, particularly electric vehicles. . . It already is making a huge difference in creating thousands of jobs around the country.”

And then there’s the tax credits. To spur consumer demand, Obama has proposed to turn the $7,500 tax credit for electric cars into a rebate that car buyers can get when they buy the cars. Sandalow compares this proposal to the popular Cash for Clunkers program because consumers can claim the incentive quickly rather than waiting to claim it as an income tax credit.

Lastly, Obama wants even more funding for research and development, including an “innovation hub” for batteries and other types of energy storage. He also wants to launch a program to give 30 communities grants of up to $10 million each to speed up electric car deployment. Ideas of accomplishing this include providing parking incentives, adding public access to charging stations and putting more electric cars to government fleets.

Obama will have to convince Congress to give him money for the rebate program, R&D spending and community grants. Sandalow said the president isn’t ready to say how much R&D funding he will seek.

At the end of the day, popularizing electric cars won’t be easy, notes the report. The success of electric cars will depend partly on the experience of early adopters, the wealthier people who could afford the first-generation Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF. If they complain about these cars, then other consumers aren’t likely to consider the purchase.

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  1. “The success of electric cars will depend partly on the experience of early adopters, …”

    Well, I can assure you that the early adopters are already extremely happy with their purchases. All you need to do is test drive GM’s Volt or Nissan’s LEAF to understand why. These cars are amazingly fun to drive! I can beat a 5 series BMW off the line in my LEAF and do so without making a noise or polluting someone else’s air. I also get to use kWh generated from sunlight to power my EV. The poor beemer’s engine screams loudly and dumps plenty of pollution into the air as it struggles to catch me. Also, the gas-burner uses 60% foreign energy that’s costing our economy a billion dollars every day to supply.

    Yes, we’ll get to one million plug-in cars by 2015. People are scrambling to get in line for these cars.

    1. Hello Paul Scott, I like your enthusiasm for electric cars. Yes, I know electric cars are fun to drive mainly because it’s so different from gasoline cars. I think the “experience” DOE is talking about isn’t just the wow factor though. Some issues:

      *How accessible are charging stations.
      *Do they experience range anxiety or is that concern overblown?
      *What if you forget to plug-in at night to charge it? We all forget to charge our phones sometimes. Do people find themselves stranded and not being able to get to work or drive their children to school?
      *How often do the cars break down and how much does the repair cost?

      When we are so reliant on cars, as we do on phones and other technologies, that anything that goes wrong can really affect our mood and daily lives. And, people will expect a lot more out of cars that they pay a lot of money for.

      1. Hi Ucilia, These are good questions. Please see below for answers.

        *How accessible are charging stations.
        Level 1 charging (120 volts, your standard household plug) are ubiquitous. This is slow charging, about 5 miles of range for every house of charging. If you drive less than 60 miles a day and can park your car for about 12 hours, this will work for you.

        Level 2 is 240 volts and will give you about 10-12 miles of range for every hour of charging. Most folks in single family homes will opt for this. If you live in an apartment or condo, you’ll need to involve your utility, landlord/HOA and city planning department to see whether this is possible. I conducted a seminal last week on this very subject. It’s a bit long, but if you have the time, here is the link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79ShT3YUVVA

        Level 3 is fast charging. These are 480 volt chargers and can charge the Nissan LEAF from 0-80% in about 30 minutes. You’ll begin to see these on the freeways, and in cities in the coming months, especially on the west coast.

        Thousands of chargers are being installed starting now, so even though you don’t see them now, they’ll be here soon enough.

        *Do they experience range anxiety or is that concern overblown?

        It’s pretty much overblown. Those of us who have been driving EVs for most of the last decade don’t experience range anxiety at all.

        *What if you forget to plug-in at night to charge it? We all forget to charge our phones sometimes. Do people find themselves stranded and not being able to get to work or drive their children to school?

        It’s pretty rare, but it does happen, and you learn from your mistakes. With the new fast charging, though, this will be less of a problem. Also, many companies will be installing charging for their employees, so you can get a charge at work, too.

        *How often do the cars break down and how much does the repair cost?

        This is one of the greatest strengths of EVs. My Toyota RAV4 EV is over 8 years old and has over 88,000 miles. It’s never had a problem except for a couple shocks that needed replacing. Toyota literally hasn’t seen my car for over 5 years, I’ve had no maintenance on it at all, except for the shocks and new tires/windshield wipers. The Toyota still drives today exactly the same as the day I got it in 2002.

        BTW, I haven’t been to a gas station, nor given those oil companies a single dime in over 8 years. This is a huge benefit of driving on electricity.

        I also installed solar PV before getting the EV, so those 88,000 miles are all on sunshine.

        Until now, you couldn’t get one of these cars, but now, every carmaker on the planet is racing to get their respective EVs to market. When you’re next in the market for a new car, tell the dealer, no plug- no deal!

        See http://www.pluginamerica.org for more info.

  2. The two biggest obstacles to widespread EV adoption? Availability and affordability. Sure the Leaf is affordable, but not available. Other cars are available (Tesla, conversions, etc.) but not very affordable. Get out cars that are both, and there really won’t be a problem hitting the 1 million mark (which is actually not a very impressive number, less than .5% of cars on the road).

    1. Electruk, we share your concern over availability, but Nissan (full disclosure, I work for the Santa Monica dealership), is quickly ramping up production and will have about 20,000 LEAFs on the roads of the U.S. by fall. Once the Smyrna, TN plant and the northern England city of Sunderland’s plant open in late 2012, we’ll have well over 150,000 LEAFs being delivered each year.

      See:
      http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/motoring/electric-car-fever-spurs-nissan-to-ramp-up-production-2196839.html#

  3. The target becomes much easier if referred to as a million electric vehicles on the road, rather than a million electric cars. Smith Electric, mentioned above, is already into routine production and delivering more than 10 large highway trucks a week from its Kansas City factory, a facilty which is to be replicated at similar facilities in 20 states across the USA (the next one being announced this month or next, probably in California). Once their whole network is running, and the Smith Newton is joined by the Smith Edison van range (already sold for 3 years in Europe), they will quite possibly be producing 20,000 pure electric trucks a year in the US. Range anxiety is not an issue for depot-based delivery fleets which serve specific routes and return to base each night where they can recharge or swap battery packs – and they are already selling on economic grounds (fuel and maintenance savings sharply reducing payback times) not just on green imagery.

    1. Hi Joz, I appreciate your trying to categorize different types of cars. But a car or a vehicle simply means a moving/motorized transport. As you can tell, the government is looking at mostly passenger cars like the Volt or trucks like what Smith Electric is doing (or a van like the Ford Transit Connect). By DOE’s estimate, Smith will produce about 1,000 Newtons each year from 2011 through 2015. Here is the report if you haven’t already clicked on it in my story: http://www.energy.gov/news/documents/1_Million_Electric_Vehicle_Report_Final.pdf

  4. Paul is exactly right. In our case, we have 3 Toyota RAV4-EV (using Nickel batteries) which have:
    90,000 miles (“nogaso”)
    105,000 miles (“eesolar”)
    135,000 miles (with one replacement battery pack using pre-2002 batteries that had been stored unused).

    Today, in fact, we’ve driven one to work, 50 miles here and 36 miles back; we could make it on one charge, but why not plug it in while we’re working??

    In over 600,000 miles of EV everyday driving, and trips to Oregon, Tahoe, SF, Las Vegas, even Toronto, FLA and other points east, we’ve NEVER had an EV run out of juice. Of course, the EV1 using NiMH had 160 miles range, so it was easier to go long distance; the current crop don’t have more than 100 miles range.

    The average car sits unused 23 hours out of 24, usually all night, and that’s perfect for SLOW CHARGING. It actually HELPS the grid — just as our rooftop solar systems energy production during peak ALSO help the grid even out loads.

    We’ve driven a lead and a NiMH EV1, two NiMH HondaEV, the Ford NiMH Ranger EV, 3 conversions and 3 NiMH Toyota RAV4-EV.

    We know the best batteries — NiMH — they last over 100,000 miles (with good care and improvements in chemistry, perhaps over 200,000) and easily recycle — into NEW batteries without need for new mining.

    Perhaps Lithium will be as good, only time will tell.

    You cannot at this time purchase a plug-in NiMH EV since Stan Ovshinsky’s ECD (the inventor), Chevron (thanks to GM’s cooperation) and its patent rights unit sued Toyota and settled, in Nov., 2002, for allowing Toyota to use NiMH for hybrids that cannnot plug in, but not for the highly successful NiMH RAV4-EV.

    That’s why all our NiMH EVs are pre-2003; it had NOTHING to do with demand, all to do with a patent rights lawsuit and Chevron stopping a competitor.

  5. My question is not so much about the number of electric cars on the road it is about when will these cars drive a significant number of the miles that are driven.

    To be feasible for me I need both range and a short charge time. Many days I could deal with a need for only 60 miles or so but I would still need a gasoline car for long trips. Two cars is not a good economic solution for many people.

    Next concern is the cost of electricity. I live in Evansville, IN where our power is 12.45 cents per KWh. Across the river in Henderson, KY the cost averages closer to 5 cents per KWh. That is a drastic difference and is only 4 miles from my home. If a full charge is comparable in price to a tank of gas then it will cost me 188% more to charge an electric car here than it will across the river. That is not acceptable.

    Electricity is a commodity must like gasoline. When it is priced as a commodity and has a small variance across the country electric vehicles will make more sense. The way things are here a good way to make money would be to set up a charging station in KY with a restaurant and take all of the business away from the legislated monopoly that strangles this part of Indiana.

  6. Joe, you bring up a number of the old bugaboos that haunt people until they start driving a plug-in car.

    First, the fueling profile of EVs is different from oil-fired car; the first is “opportunistic”, slow-charging while the car sits unused 23 hours per day, while the latter is “episodic”, you fill it up and let it sit. This is for EVs that are used, as most cars are used, to get around town. Long distance trips in a car are a thing of the past; if you want to tour the USA, take an RV, or a camper. So for daily driving of less than 120 miles per day, the 160-mile-range EV1 was more than sufficient. And in L.A., 120 miles of driving in the day means 4 to 6 hours, not a good thing to be spending your life on.

    Secondly, there are more registered cars than drivers; so most people have more than one car. If not, if you live alone and only have one car, perhaps you should stick with an oil-fired car; some folks are going to stick with oil. But for most of us, we each have our own car, the kids each have a car, and we have maybe one truck for hauling stuff. One, two, three or even four EVs fit into this car culture very easily; when a family has only one EV, we’ve found, they all want to drive it! And if you can’t get to drive the EV, the loser often doesn’t want to go at all!

    About electric: it’s all a scam. The utility has been sucking from the public trough using the “Edison system” for over a century: large, centralized generators, substations, pole-mounted transformers and a utility monopoly. The good thing about plug-in cars is you can put a rooftop solar system in, run on the energy you make yourself, and get domestic electric into the bargain!

    The best thing of all, is the money you save NOT paying for gas pays off the solar system! We paid off our solar system in 3 years ($11,000 our cost for our first system; we since have upgraded twice) so get to drive for free, and can even sell extra energy back to the grid for cash!

    What could be better than an unused rooftop generating extra electric to send back to the grid, power our home, and provide clean, oil-free emissionless driving for over 2000 miles per month??

    And the panels are guaranteed for 25 years, may last a century or more…providing a higher home value, also, if we ever sell our home.

    Some will say, what if I don’t have a roof? What if I don’t have a car? What if I just don’t like to give up oil? Well, to those, I say, keep to what you know; but watch the rest of use put electric on America’s unused rooftops (over 10,000 square miles of sunny roofs) which help cool and protect them, and which generate more electric than we can ever use, even if all our cars were plug-in and all our trains ran on electric only.

  7. Well, again today we’re charging up one of the EVs to drive to Pomona, 38 miles one-way, to work; then a 10 mile detour to the gym. Another 100 miles of all-electric driving, which would have burned 5 gallons if we drove an oil-fired car, and which would have cost $15 in gas alone; but our fueling is for free, we just plug into our solar system here and maybe if we wanted to at work also. Why not charge it up while it sits unused??

    That’s how you get to our 600,000 miles of oil-free driving! Just driving to work, to the store, doctors, errands, etc.

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