By on January 30, 2011

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.

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32 Comments on “Obama’s Moonshot: A Million EVs By 2015...”

  • avatar

    Obama also said he wanted a 5-year freeze on domestic spending.

    • 0 avatar

      Nice to say he wants a freeze after trillions in spending commitments. How about a cut? Most of Washington is worse than a waste of money, it’s an anchor on the country.

    • 0 avatar

      Audacious would be cutting the military budget by 30% or freezing all new weapons programs for 5 years.
      The TVA electrified most of the Tennessee Valley.  That is a government program that works.
      My question is what real benefit will there be with 1M electric cars on American roads?

  • avatar

    Let’s take a practical look at this.  Asking me to switch to an electric car is like asking me to switch from home oil heat to electric heat.  Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows how outrageously expensive electric heat is.
    America’s time of innovation is in the past.  Most practical and innovative technology will be developed and manufactured in China and India from now on.

    • 0 avatar

      Why do you say that America’s time of innovation is in the past?  To be sure, back in the day America didn’t have competition from India and China, so the “limelight” will be shared with other countries but to rule out “practical and innovative” technology being born in USA is silly.  Why does America enjoy military air superiority?  Because decisions were made to invest in it.  It was not created overnight, nor is it diminished because there are other formidable aircraft from other countries in the sky today. Sad to say that I agree with you that no matter what is developed, short sighted folks will choose to manufacture it offshore.
      The President’s goal is not reachable today, but that does not mean it can’t be done.  But should it be done?  There are just several big hurdles to overcome, the biggest of which is does an electric transportation system make real sense?  Even if the miracle battery were to be developed at a reasonable price other factors are equally important.  Where is this electricity going to come from?  What about a distribution system?  What about the present system and the companies that own them?

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      The real question is why does anybody think that there is anything innovative about the BEV?
      My great-grandmother owned one almost 100 years ago.
      To be sure, there have been innovations in battery chemistry and electric motors since then. But, her Baker Electric is technically closer to the Nissan Leaf, than the contemporary model T is to the newest Fiesta.

  • avatar

    Dreamin’ inside the Washington Beltway…………

  • avatar

    Count golf carts and we’re already there. Problem solved.

  • avatar

    Did Obama trade in his Prius for a Leaf yet?  He sat in the Volt as if to lend his
    stamp of approval, but that is not an electric car such as he wants on the roads.
    Better create some jobs pretty soon if we are to buy all of these secondary use
    expensive cars.

    • 0 avatar

      How about utility workers to upgrade electrical infrastructure, some of which hasn’t been updated in 100 years! After that, build smooth roads to drive them on. I bet it would be cheaper to go to the moon or Mars instead.

  • avatar

    What planet does the author of this article live on?
    Obama hardly set an “audacious goal” (authors words).  The Apollo program was vastly more challenging than selling a few more electric vehicles by 2015.
    If Obama wants to set an audacious goal, and he should, how about the goal of cutting the Federal Government’s size by 30%.  What about the audacious goal of improving science and math grades for all high school students so they can compete in a global marketplace.
    If Obama wants to address the energy challenges using electric vehicles, how about he goal of building an electric vehicle with a range of 500 miles (without gas).

    • 0 avatar

      Hey, if nothing else, it once again shows how easily swayed progressives are by simple inflation; in everything, up to and including Presidential “goals” :)
      JFK wanted to put a man on the moon in the pre transistor era. Obama wants more gullibles to feel good about themselves while putzing around in golf carts.
      While I used to eat wild salmon caught on a troll line off Alaska, bought at a pleasant fish market. Now I can pay the same for a farm raised, Chilean concoction bought at Wal-Mart. It’s all the same, really. Hedonic adjustments, you know… No inflation at all, that’s what Bernanke says.

    • 0 avatar

      Stuki, transistors were invented in 1953, I think. By the time of Kennedy’s speech you could buy transistor radios and most big companies had mainframe computers. What was audacious about Kennedy’s goal was the timetable – to put a man on the moon and bring him back safely “within the decade”.
      It’s interesting that while the Fed gov’t spent the money, almost all the engineering was done by vendors, not NASA, though I don’t have a problem with national labs like Argonne doing basic research that businesses can develop into products.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s a question of scale, NASA only had to send one rocket to the moon in ten years.  Here they’re talking about 1,000,000 electric cars in four.  Getting to the moon was a technical problem, this is a production problem.  For comparison the US only built 650,000 Jeeps during WW2 in about the same time frame and that was with a guaranteed buyer and no new technology.

  • avatar

    Not going to happen. For starters, electric cars have not advanced to the point of being usably by most Americans. But the main problem is that the Manned Space programs of the 60s (Mercury through Apollo) was the government investing in the technologies of the future. This is the president asking us nicely to buy a product. Its really no different than saying we need to buy more lawnmowers or cameras, especially when you consider that for most people, a car is nothing more than an appliance. A better goal would be that in the next ten years to achieve fusion. That would be a scientific leap on the same grand scale as the lunar landings, and would be infinitely more useful than 1 million electric cars. I mean, we need to power those cars, and our society, and currently we are basically solely burning fossil fuels! Electric cars without a greener tech supplying the power is basically no different than just owning a conventional (much more useful) gas burning car. And also, come on… 1 million cars isnt even a dent in a country with a 300 million person population and a majority of households having multiple cars! How about we set a real goal, ok?

  • avatar
    Darth Lefty

    You are failing to adjust for inflation in the cost of the moon shot.  This makes your comparison of budget numbers unfair by a factor of about six. The space program also received a lot of help from the military side.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “Anyone who lives in a cold climate knows how outrageously expensive electric heat is.”

    Really? My first home with electric heat wasn’t a whole lot more expensive than it would have been w/natural gas. Which is why after my first winter I nixed plans to install a gas funance/forced air system. Try heating w/propane and then you’ll know what expensive is.

    For future energy needs I don’t think there is one “smoking gun” solution.  I still think electric cars will be a big but not by any means the only solution. Lot’s of low hanging fruit to be plucked. We just need oil to get expensive enough where from a cost standpoint they become feasible. 

    • 0 avatar

      When oil becomes expensive enough to force us to use less desirable and efficient energy sources, all of our standards of living will fall; except for those of the bastards orchestrating this suicide cult.

    • 0 avatar

      Really? Expensive electric heat? When we lived in St. Louis, we had gas heat. Coupled with electric and gas bills, our energy costs in the 80’s and early 90’s were more expensive than we pay in Cincinnati with all-electric utilities now. We pay less with our heat pump/AC combo ’cause we bought the most efficient level available (14 SEER rating) and it has paid for itself in the late 90’s. My parents had oil heat, and it got expensive in the mid-late 70’s.

      Back to topic: The moonshot was a singular goal of a nation with all resources dedicated to it. Changing the way Americans commute/travel is an entirely different thing. Apples to oranges. We’ve already accomplished our automotive “moonshots” with developing fuel call, electric and hybrid vehicles. Making them practical, well, that’s another story. But I won’t be boarding a capsule atop a Saturn V for a trip to California anytime soon, either! Amtrak/passenger rail is THE way to travel, if the nation would make that mode of transportation more practical, as airline travel has, for the sake of speed, been reduced to being humiliated by sometimes “Gestapo” wannabees and crammed into a tube and shot through the air to our destination. I digress, but remember and traveled on the old passenger trains and on airlines when it was considered fashionable, and not an airborne bus. “Class” existed in the not-so-distant past, and one did have to be well-off to experience it, but people had standards of manners and civility, too. SIGH…

    • 0 avatar

      Electric motors are hugely more efficient than ICE (80-90% vs 20-30% input potential to output mechanical), electric power transmission & distribution is more efficient than gasoline transmission & distribution. Even with the current coal-heavy mix of US power production, fueling a Nissan Leaf generates about as much CO2 as fueling a Prius.
      Now, batteries. Batteries suck by any objective power or energy density metric. They’re getting better, but they have a looong way to go.

  • avatar

    BTW, the US could have put an operational satellite into orbit a year before the Soviets launched Sputnik. They had the boosters and just had to add a payload in a fourth stage. Werner Von Braun was ordered, by the general in charge of the program, to not go operational on a 4th stage. Geopolitically it was better to let the Soviets go first and establish a precedent of satellite flyovers. That way when the US started launching spy and other types of satellites, they could point to the Soviets and say they did it first.
    Also, it wasn’t Sputnik that got everyone’s attention. Like Pres. Eisenhower said, they put a ball into space. When the Soviets followed by sending a dog into space (to a horrific death, btw) it got more notice.
    Decisions by a couple of NASA engineers, to test the Saturn V as a system, not as individual components first, and to commit to Apollo 8 when it did, particularly after Apollo 1 burned with 3 aboard on the pad, were what got us to the moon by 1970.

  • avatar

    We have so much natural gas we should be using it in place of petroleum. Of course we should be drilling, digging coal and building nuclear powerplants as well as developing battery technology and practical forms of alternative energy. There’s a very cool Honeywell Wind Turbine that cleverly dispenses with gearboxes and generators by putting a turbine fan inside a shroud, mount magnets on the tips of the fan blades, and put electromagnetic coils in the shroud. Eliminating the gearbox and integrating the generator into the turbine itself means that it starts spinning and generating electricity at only 1/2 mph windspeed. I don’t know if it’ll pay back @ $6,5000 MSRP with a controller, but I have no problem with alternative energy. However, we should be developing all of our energy resources, not have moratoriums on drilling.

  • avatar
    thats one fast cat

    Truly one of the stupidest analogies ever to come from this White House.  I guess it shows that in the end, affluence really does beget nothing more than consumerism.
    I don’t agree with her often, but Peggy Noonan is absolutely correct on this one.

  • avatar

    This administration should stay away from transportation policies and do what they do best which is take from the productive and give to the non-productive. They don’t understand how economies work, their expertise lies with social justice and the implementation thereof.

  • avatar

    “Why do you say that America’s time of innovation is in the past?”
    Because I’ve worked in the American Electronics industry for the past thirty years.  Believe me, our time of innovation is long passed. Military Superiority ? If you would see some of the junk that defense contractors pawn off as military grade, you’d be appalled.

    • 0 avatar

      “Military grade” often has the benefit of being expendable and replaceable at the taxpayer’s expense.
      I’ve also worked in the electronics industry for quite a while – developing a commercial-grade or consumer-grade product is a tougher assignment because of the price sensitivity of these customers.
      But I don’t agree that America’s time of innovation is past.

  • avatar

    Nissan will have 3 plants ready by 2013 to manufacture Leaf. The goal is to sell 500,000 each year. I assume between 200,000 to 250,000 of them would be sold in the States – if the projected sales are met. Add the figures from other manufacturers then 1 million is not far off.

  • avatar

    Although the technical challenges for viable EVs are huge, changing the behavior of the American public is a much greater hurdle.
    The EVs sold in 2015 will basically use the EV technology available today, so you’ll not get the combination of range, infrastructure, and price that consumers want.
    [And I’ll gently object to calling the Volt an EV.  If you just put gas in it, you could drive it all day.  In my mind, only the Leaf qualifies for the “EV” name at this point.]

  • avatar

    The Lunar Landing was an engineering challenge. Since 1920, we knew how to do it. By 1935, we had the rocket knowledge to do it. By 1960, we had the engineers to do it.

    So we did it. We’re talking about the work of, what, 10,000 people max?

    Obama’s analogy is way off. He doesn’t know his history. He doesn’t understand how to engineer a chicken salad sandwich. He knows politics. Everything we needed to know about sending a man to the Moon, he doesn’t know.

    EVs are here.

    Say you are stranded on the Dan Ryan Expressway, or another one of our mega-freeways during a snow storm. Traffic is going nowhere. Instead of taking 60 minutes to get home, you are still sitting in your car after 90 minutes, and you are not even half way home. The temperatures are below freezing. You heater is on. Your radio is on. Your headlights are on. Your “tank” isn’t completely full since you charged up in your garage last night in your EV. When do you start panicking that your EV is running out of it’s charge? And how will you get it to your home when it dies? Where are you going to plug it in if you get stranded? How long will it take to get your EV recharged?

    This scenario is completely realistic for half the US drivers. Especially those the President wants to see in EVs.

    The moment we see stranded EV on the expressways, the sooner this entire political stunt dies.

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