D.C. Auto Show: U.S. Backs Off Plan for 1M EVs by 2015

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A Nissan LEAF charges at a workplace charging station

While electric vehicles (EVs) such as the Nissan Leaf shown here at a public charging station may be catching on, they’re doing so at a slower rate than government– and probably EV automakers– would like. (Photo courtesy Nissan North America.)

The Department of Energy still believes in the electric car– hey, maybe we should introduce them to Mark Reuss— but says perhaps the goal of having one million EVs on the road by 2015 was a tad optimistic.

According to Reuters, Energy Department Secretary Steven Chu gave a “more realistic outlook for the pace of electric vehicle adoption among American consumers, who have been cool to EVs because of high cost and the limited charging infrastructure in the United States.”

Sound anything like the chicken-and-egg conundrum we’ve outlined at this site previously? It should. Adoption of EVs will likely remain slower than the government– not to mention the makers of EVs and their batteries– would like until some combination of improving battery technology and charging station availability make them viable options for a majority of drivers in a majority of situations. That would be why the government has thrown so much money at the industry. Quoting the article:

During his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama also called for putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. Overall, U.S. federal policies to promote electric vehicles will cost $7.5 billion through 2019, the Congressional Budget Office said in September.

That includes $2.4 billion in grants to lithium-ion battery makers and projects to promote electric vehicles as well as $3.1 billion in loans to auto companies, intended to spur production of fuel-efficient vehicles.

If you’ve followed the news much in the last year, you’ll know this hasn’t always worked out in the government’s favor, as it hasn’t been enough to keep some EV suppliers viable. Again quoting the article:

Poor demand has hurt lithium-ion battery makers, pushing two DOE grant recipients, A123 Systems Inc and EnerDel, to file for bankruptcy protection. Dow Chemical Co took a $1.1 billion charge last year, related in part to a writedown of its lithium-ion battery business, Dow-Kokam LLC.

The government will not be discouraged from its goal of seeing more EVs on the road, however. At the Washington Auto Show, EPA officials and automakers started talking about their respective roles in the “Workplace Charging Challenge.” That’s the latest part of the Obama Administration’s “EV Everywhere Grand Challenge” intended to encourage employers to install EV charging systems, reasoning that so-called “end-to-end” charging can help make EVs a more viable form of everyday transportation for a greater number of drivers.

We’ll have to wait and see how the efforts of government and commercial powers influence the adoption rate of EVs and whether there will ever be one million such cars on the road. But according to Reuters, for an unnamed Energy Department official, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

“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.”

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