The U.S. Department of Energy has released a new report, One Million Electric Vehicles by 2015, which backs up President Obama's stated goal of ... well, guess how many EVs will be on the road by what year. The report says that the goal is "ambitious" but "achievable." Of course, I wouldn't expect the report to conclude anything else, but I'm not buying it, not the way it's written. I'm certainly no expert, but I'm not seeing it.
First, there's the o'er-the-ramparts-we-watched aspect of it. "This is a race America can win," says DOE secretary David Sandalow, "if we answer the President's call to out-innovate, out-build, and out-compete the rest of the world."
Sure, you need the all-American aspect of it to lead the troops, and I'm the first to say that a country only becomes strong when it has a solid manufacturing base. America needs to build these vehicles at home. But as soon as you make it a race to beat everybody else, you've severed your ties with the people who can help you. The Japanese were building viable hybrids when American companies were still trying to figure out four-cylinder engines. Why start at the very beginning, when you can work in conjunction with people who know what they're doing? Contrary to popular redneck belief, Nissan won't be sending every penny it makes on the Leaf back to Japan. That cash will stay in Smyrna, Tennessee where the car will be built, going home with the workers, going into the local tax coffers, working its way into the community.
Getting plant capacity up to one million electric vehicles isn't a problem, the report says, and it's correct on that. We can probably pop out many more than that every year. What we can't do as easily is find people to buy them. So the government is offering a rebate of up to $7,500 on each one, and offering grants to communities that prioritize electric vehicle deployment.
The problem is that the government won't do the one thing that is needed to advance the deployment of electric vehicles - raise the price of gasoline. Because that will be political suicide, and everyone in Washington knows it.
Why do Europeans buy little cars with little engines? Because gasoline costs a fortune over there. As long as gasoline is cheap, people will buy the relatively inexpensive vehicles that use it, rather than the relatively expensive vehicles that don't. People do the math. If the premium on that electric or hybrid car is more than what it saves in fuel, most won't buy it. Despite the whole "green" movement, and sending children to school to learn about rain forests, and putting cans out to the curb for recycling, most people will put their coins ahead of their carbon footprint. If a car costs too much, it doesn't matter how little it spews out the exhaust pipe, if it has one at all.
I wonder what One Million Electric Vehicles by 2015 cost to produce. I could have saved them a bundle and written it up in the time it takes to say it: If you want people to buy alternative vehicles, raise the price of gas until it's worth their while. Sure, there will always be people who buy Volts or Leafs because they're cool and techy and neat. But as long as gas costs less than bottled water, it will be a long, long time, if ever, before you find a million of those folks willing to open their wallets.