Obama's Moonshot: A Million EVs By 2015

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

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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2 of 32 comments
  • SCE to AUX SCE to AUX on Jan 31, 2011

    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.]

  • VanillaDude VanillaDude on Jan 31, 2011

    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.

  • David S. For a single quarter, only ninth best-selling (estimated?) of 2022. Maybe ICE vehicles would sell at a similar rate if the government paid people to buy them too?!
  • Dukeisduke I don't like how they've changed their nameplates and font from the Star Trek-ish LEXUS, to L E X U S, kinda like VW's lettering on the back of the T A O S, or those stick-on letters you can buy at the parts store that people use to their own names on the back of their cars.
  • Dukeisduke So, the screen goes blank for two-tenths of a second, every once in a while - what could go wrong?
  • Dukeisduke "Hello, IT. Have you tried turning it off and on again?"(Roy in The IT Crowd)
  • Dukeisduke Just Say No To Bugs!