obamacarWhile campaigning in August 2008, President Obama called for 1 million plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles (EVs) on the road by 2015. According to HybridCars.com, the campaign circulated an “8-page fact sheet” that contained this promise: “Half of all cars purchased by the federal government will be plug-in hybrids or all-electric by 2012.”

Once in office, he backed that up with a March 2009, executive order that offered “$2.4 Billion in Funding to Support Next Generation Electric Vehicles” to “help meet the President’s goal of putting 1 million plug-in hybrid vehicles on the road by 2015.” He continued the electric-car drumbeat in his January 2011 State of the Union Address: “We can break our dependence on oil … and become the first country to have 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015.”

According to a February 2011 Scientific American analysis titled “Raising the Volt-Age: Is Obama’s Goal of 1 Million Electric Vehicles on U.S. Highways by 2015 Realistic?,”  “The Obama Administration realizes that attaining such a goal will be impossible without help from the federal government.” It then delineates the billions of dollars in federal spending aimed at reaching what it acknowledges “may still be just a pipe dream.” It concludes: “So much federal involvement has helped spur state governments and private industry to make significant investments in the EV sector as well.”

That same month, a Department of Energy (DOE) report called the 1 million electric cars greencarby 2015 “ambitious,” and “achievable.” It states: “For that reason, President Obama has proposed steps to accelerate America’s leadership in electric vehicle deployment, including improvements to existing consumer tax credits, programs to help cities prepare for growing demand for electric vehicles and strong support for research and development.”

In 2013, the DOE “eased off” the “quixotic” objective, as Cleantechnica.com called it. According to Reuters, on January 2013, the DOE said: “Whether we meet that goal in 2015 or 2016, that’s less important than that we’re on the right path to get many millions of these vehicles on the road.” Then, a year ago, with only 11 months left to fulfill Obama’s pledge, Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz acknowledged reality: “We’re going to be a few years after the president’s aspirational goal of the end of 2015, but I think that we are within a few years of reaching that goal.”

electricchargeNow, 2015 is in the record books, and despite billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in EV subsidies for consumers and industry, Reuters reports: “Only about 400,000 electric cars have been sold. Last year, sales fell 6% over the previous year to about 115,000, despite the industry offering about 30 plug-in models, often at deep discounts.”

Though 400,000 EVs may have been sold, the actual number on the road is likely far less. Most of the “sales” are actually leases; when the lease term is over, the EVs get turned back into the dealer, and then to the manufacturer. Drivers, even with generous incentives to buy the model they are driving, don’t want them. According to the Wall Street Journal, there is little demand for used electric cars.

Regardless of the slow sales, Reuters says: “The industry continues to roll out new models in response to government mandates and its own desire to create brands known for environmental innovation.” And there is the crux of the EV effort: “environmental innovation”—there is a sense that EVs are the right thing for the environment.

Reuters continues: “Many automakers worry that consumers will perceive them as technologically backward if they don’t build electric cars—even if they can’t sell them in large numbers.” Green car advocates say: “EVs are a crucial part of the effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

While sales have been disappointing, the industry is ramping up EV production—in unsoldresponse to “an influx of state and federal cash and related mandates”—and cramming EVs into the market “at way below what it costs to make them.” Throwing good money after bad, a year ago, Moniz declared that the DOE “will award $56 million in new grants for research projects that aim to reduce and improve the efficiency of plug-in electric cars.”

All of this effort to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and appear environmentally innovative and technologically forward is missing the mark.

In December 2014, a study was released that claimed that electric cars actually produced “3.6 times more soot and smog deaths than those powered by gas.” Study co-author Julian Marshall, an engineering professor at the University of Minnesota, says: “It is kind of hard to beat gasoline. …A lot of technologies that we think of as being clean are not better than gasoline.” In reality, these zero-emissions vehicles are generally fueled by coal.

Reading the comments on the CBS coverage of the study, EV advocates dismiss the conclusion that EVs are not as green as we are made to think they are. One even states: “Do I get a whiff of the not-so faint smell of Big Oil adjusted results studies here???”

According to Popular Mechanics, researchers “set out to study the effects on human health of various alternative ways to power a car.” Surprisingly, “Internal combustion vehicles running on corn ethanol and electric vehicles powered by electricity from coal were the real sinners.”

While EV advocates want to claim, as one did, that EVs are powered by wind and solar energy, the facts don’t support the fantasy.

In November, the Washington Post (WP) ran a major story: “Electric cars and the coal that runs them.” It points out: “Alongside the boom has come a surging demand for power to charge the vehicles, which can consume as much electricity in a single charge as the average refrigerator does in a month and a half.”

The Dutch city of Rotterdam is banning “the oldest exhaust spewing vehicles” from the city center. “Thanks to generous tax incentives, the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.” How are they meeting the “surging demand for power?” With three new coal-fueled power plants.

The WP concludes: “But for all its efforts locally and nationally, the Netherlands will blow past its 2020 emissions targets, the result of the new coal-fired power plants.” More new coal-fired plants—powered by cheap American coal—are projected due to the increased demand from EVs.

The results are similar in China where EV sales have quadrupled. The WP states: “Chinese leaders have embraced electric cars as a way of cleaning up cities that have some of the worst air quality in the world. But the Chinese electricity market is heavily dependent on coal; the pollution is simply being taken from the centers of cities and moved to their outskirts.”

pricesLast week Reuters addressed a series of studies by Tsinghua University. The results? “Electric cars charged in China produce two to five times as much particulate matter and chemicals that contribute to smog versus petrol engine cars.”

Since the 1970s, car manufacturers, thanks to American innovation and initiative, have dramatically cleaned up exhaust emissions. Moving the global transportation fleet to EVs, as tax incentives have tried to do, makes no sense environmentally or economically. Former GM vice chairman Bob Lutz, who headed up development of the original Chevy Volt explains: “If gasoline was $8 a gallon, consumers would amortize the cost of an electric vehicle pretty quickly. But at $1.50 a gallon, who is going to be willing to pay the $8,000 or $10,000 premium?”

At turns out, Obama’s 1 million EVs by 2015 was a “pipe dream” after all. Even the federal government didn’t buy the projected quantities. His ideals are not consistent with either consumer interest or technology.


  • Marita Noon

    CFACT policy analyst Marita Noon is the author of <i><a href="http://www.imprbooks.com/shop/pc/viewPrd.asp?idcategory=158&amp;idproduct=2095">Energy Freedom.</a></i>, <strong>