A million electric vehicles by 2015?

Obama's commitment to put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2015 failed and cost billions

President pledged a million electric cars by 2015 at 2011 State of the Union. Credit/Whitehouse.gov

AUSTIN, January 9, 2015 – President Obama traveled to Michigan to tout the automobile and manufacturing economic recovery at a Ford plant in Wayne on Tuesday. The President did not mention his 2011 State of the Union commitment to put one million electric vehicles on American roads by 2015, for good reason.

As of January 1st, there were a total of 286,390 plug-in hybrid and fully electric vehicles sold in the United States. That’s only 29 percent of the way to the President’s heavily funded policy goal. The massive million electric vehicle funding blunder is one of the more costly job creation failures of the Obama Administration.

There are three legs needed to hold up the electric car industry tripod: 1-Batteries, 2-Charging stations, 3-Electric cars.

For leg 1 alone, the federal government poured $2.4 billion in Recovery Act grant funding (free money) into batteries. The idea was to make the United States the electric car battery capitol of the world. Few batteries were made, even fewer jobs created and it left a trail of bankruptcies in its wake.

Top 7 Recovery Act electric battery grants. Credit/Steve Davidson-Congressional Research Service data
Top 7 Recovery Act electric battery grants. Credit/Steve Davidson-Congressional Research Service data

The top seven investments into car batteries totaled $1.2 billion. None are producing American-made batteries for electric cars. None of the total federal taxpayer billions so far spent to kick start the American electric car battery industry has worked.

The CBO reported in late 2012 that total federal funding for battery technology would reach $7.5 billion by 2019. States like California have kicked in more from their own taxpayers.

In total sales, the biggest plug-in hybrid electric car models sold in the U.S. are the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt. Toyota’s batteries are made in Japan by Primearth EV Energy and have a pathetic range of about 11 miles in all-electric mode. The Volt has an electric-only EPA range of 38 miles.

Despite a $105.9 million ARRA grant, GM buys batteries for the Volt from LG Chem, a South Korean manufacturer. GM’s 2nd generation Volt was unveiled at the Detroit Auto Show this week. It will be available in 2016. It will use an upgraded LG Chem battery, made in South Korea, that is not expected to extend the car’s pitiful EV-only driving range.

The Prius and Volt are electricity-assisted gasoline powered cars that get higher MPG.

The largest selling all-electric cars are the luxury Tesla and Nissan Leaf. Tesla currently buys batteries made by Panasonic in Japan. Panasonic is partnering with Tesla to build the much publicized $5 billion, mega-named gigafactory in Nevada. Construction just started and it is expected to be finished in 2020.

The Nissan Leaf uses a battery made by Automotive Energy Supply Corporation in Zama, Japan. Under idealized conditions it has an EPA-rated range of 138 miles. In winter stop-and-go traffic that range drops to 62 miles between charges.

Bottom line, none of the batteries used in the biggest selling plug-in hybrid and all electric cars are made in America. Johnson Controls is concentrating on start-stop batteries, targeting the European market.

Worse yet, because of CAFE standards, the CBO also came to these two sobering conclusions in 2013:

  1. Electric vehicle tax credits probably do not reduce gasoline use or greenhouse gas emissions
  2. At current vehicle prices, federal tax credits alone generally do not offset the higher lifetime cost of driving electric vehicles

In other words, electric cars do not achieve their intended purpose and are more expensive, even after government subsidies.

Not to mention the hassle of finding a charging station when you desperately need one. ECOtality, the ARRA-funded company tasked to build a 15,000 strong national charging station infrastructure went bankrupt.


President Obama spoke at a Wayne, Michigan Ford assembly plant this week. In it he hyped that his automotive bailouts and other investments helped recover the auto and manufacturing industries from the 2008 recession.

It’s noteworthy that the President spoke at a Ford plant. Obama’s auto bailouts were for GM and Chrysler. Both declared bankruptcy anyway. In addition, GM got a hefty $105.9 million dollar electric car battery grant, but still buys all its batteries overseas. The auto bailouts lost taxpayers $10 billion. Chrysler is now foreign owned.

Ford, on the other hand, took no notable government handouts and is doing just fine on its own.

The only major automotive jobs creation initiative of the Obama presidency was to put one million electric vehicles on U.S. highways by 2015. That’s right now. He didn’t even mention his failed program that will cost $7.5 billion for the battery part without creating an American electric car battery industry.

It’s no wonder the President didn’t mention the million electric car commitment and spoke at the only auto company that he didn’t “help”.

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  • T

    “Bottom line, none of the batteries used in the biggest selling plug-in hybrid and all electric cars are made in America.” This is a completely inaccurate statement. Batteries for the Nissan LEAF are made in Tennessee.

    • Steve Davidson

      You are absolutely correct! I was relying on pre-2013 data when LEAF batteries were still made in Japan. Nissan got a $1.4 billion loan guarantee from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to build the plant in Smyrna next to its Leaf assembly plant.

      There are electric car batteries built in America after all! Of course, they use Japanese technology developed in Zama, Japan and built by a foreign owned company.

      The good news is that upwards of “as many as 1,000 jobs” (according to news reports) were created in Tennessee. That means U.S. taxpayers invested $1.4 million/job, not counting state and local subsidies and tax breaks. That is a very sweet deal for Nissan and a boost for Tennessee’s economy.

  • Erocker

    The math seem strange 1,181 billion or 1.2 billion which is it. I doubt it was 1,181 billion.

    • Steve Davidson

      The 1,181 billion in the graph above is a typo. It should be 1,182 million. The numbers in the text are consistent and correct.

      • Wise Man

        Sorry Steve but based on the above comments made and your corresponding responses this article seems to contain several inaccuracies. You may want consider updating the article with more accurate figures/details.

        • Steve Davidson

          Good suggestion! Once submitted, I don’t have editorial control at CDN,
          but did update the article in my blog called “Inform The Pundits!”. You’ll have to Google search the name to read it because this comment utility rejects all URLs as spam.

  • sunshineisfree

    Are you sure you don’t mean millions instead of billions ???

    • Steve Davidson

      Yes, that is correct. The “B” in the total line in the graph above should be an “M”. It’s my typo.

  • RobMF

    Sorry, Steve, this piece is a bit inaccurate. Many batteries are now produced within the US and more are on the way with Tesla and a GM affiliate both building large factories. Though EVs in the US will probably exceed 400K by end 2015, and that doesn’t hit the million car goal this year, the huge battery market is now driving battery economies of scale that are resulting in spiking efficiencies and lowered costs. This is now making battery grid storage a more and more viable option. The result is that both EV prices will fall as ranges increase even as renewable based storage systems gain more versatility.

    A more realistic measure will be to cross the 1 million EV Mark by 2017-18. And that appears to be more than doable.