In 1961, President John F. Kennedy said in a speech to a joint session of Congress: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” On 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon. The Apollo 11 crew returned safely to Earth on 24 July. Three years later, the Moon had its last visitors. The Sea of Tranquility lives up to its name.
In last week’s State of the Union speech, President Barack Obama’s set an even more audacious goal. Amongst the “Apollo projects of our times” is the goal for the United States to be “the first country to have a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”
Why is that more audacious? JFK only had to convince Congress to shake loose $7 billion. In the end, the project did cost $25 billion, the overrun surprised nobody. Obama has a tougher sell. He needs to convince a million Americans to buy an electric car.
Coincidentally, the U.S. again has more than $25 billion invested in advanced-technology vehicle development. With overruns, it will likely be more.
Michael Omotoso, director of global powertrain forecasting at J.D. Power and Associates thinks that Obama’s new Apollo project is “a stretch goal. We don’t think we’re going to reach that number by 2015,” he said to Automotive News [sub]. The high cost of batteries and the limited market for short-range compact cars will be obstacles that make a million EVs by 2015 a lot more difficult than a moon shot.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration also thinks the plan is ambitious. They see automakers selling about 281,000 electric cars and light trucks from 2011 through 2015. That figure includes fuel-cell vehicles and excludes electric-gasoline hybrids. So far, a total of 326 Volts (which do not count as a pure electric vehicle) and 19 Leafs have been sold, according to company sales data compiled by Bloomberg.
Art Spinella, president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Oregon, sees “a substantial gap between what the price is and what people are willing to spend.” He has a way to bridge that gap. Spinella thinks the president’s goal is “not only doable but probable” if the government backs it with at least $6.9 billion in federal and state tax credits. Again coincidentally, that is what JFK had asked for. And we all know how it ended. It did cost more than three times as much, and the moon remained unvisited for nearly 40 years.
Also coincidentally, while JFK threw down the gauntlet to the Soviets, Barack Obama finds himself in an EV race against the Chinese. They also want a million EVs by 2015. You think their job is easier, because they just order it, and it will be done?
Ask BYD how they are doing.