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Last modified: Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Expert panel: Obama's goal for electric vehicles requires 'bold action'

Blue-ribbon panel says auto industry, government must do far more to ensure electric vehicles have a fair shot at commercial acceptance in the U.S.

Feb. 2, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- While President Barack Obama's State of the Union address displayed a big vision for electric cars in America, a new blue-ribbon study sponsored by Indiana University concludes that the president's vision needs bold action from the auto industry, federal government and the scientific community to ensure those goals are realized.

The report, Plug-In Electric Vehicles: A Practical Plan for Progress, lays out the short-term and long-term steps the United States must take to be assured of a global leadership role in the emerging electric vehicle industry.

Electric Car

GM Corp

This study represents a first-ever evaluation of one of President Obama's chief environmental campaign goals -- putting one million alternative-energy vehicles on US highways by 2015.

"President Obama's dream is appealing and it may be achievable, but there are big barriers to overcome before the mass commercialization of electric vehicles will occur," said John D. Graham, dean of the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IU.

The chairman of the IU panel, former Ford Motor Co. executive Gurminder Bedi, stressed that "a successful national program for electric vehicles will require an unusual degree of cooperation between industry and government, and a clear focus on the needs and concerns of consumers."

The 13-member panel's work was released today at a news conference in Washington, D.C. Among its specific conclusions:

  • Obama's goal, while achievable before the end of the decade, is unlikely to be met by 2015, both because automakers and suppliers do not have sufficient production targets, and the demand from consumers is not yet robust enough to hit the one-million target.
  • Uncertainty about reliability and resale value, coupled with a general lack of consumer understanding of Plug-in Electric Vehicles (PEVs), contributes to a lack of demand for these new products.
  • More importantly, the high cost of PEVs and challenges related to recharging the vehicles pose significant obstacles to broader adoption and acceptance of this new technology.

The panel also makes a series of recommendations to better ensure that consumers have a fair opportunity to make informed decisions about whether to purchase PEVs, including:

  • The federal government should create a national PEV demonstration program in up to 20 communities around the country to help motorists and consumers become more familiar with plug-in hybrid electric and pure electric vehicles, and create an instructive "pilot program" for consumers, utilities, municipal officials, dealers and manufacturers.
  • Additional cost-effective incentives to encourage more consumers to invest in these new vehicles should be enacted.
  • Broader investment in PEV infrastructure technology, particularly in recharging capability at the homes of potential PEV buyers, should also be a priority.
  • Long-term research and development investment by both government and the auto industry to help bring down the cost of batteries and related PEV technology must be enlarged.

"We believe that PEVs are an idea whose time has come," Bedi said. "But it's clear that the technology needs a redoubled investment in time, energy and money from both government and the auto industry before PEVs become part of our automotive mainstream."

The report comes as the administration and Congress are preparing a fresh push for electric vehicles. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., and Rep. Sander Levin, D-Mich., last week introduced legislation that would more than double the $7,500 tax credit consumers currently receive if they purchase a plug-in electric vehicle. If enacted into law, the Levin bill could cost up to $19 billion over 10 years.

Separately, Vice President Joe Biden announced on Jan. 26 that the administration is seeking to create a competitive grant program worth up to $10 million apiece for up to 30 communities for the development of charging stations and electric-car requirements.

The U.S. is not alone in the quest to be a leader in the emerging electric vehicle industry. The IU report catalogues recent initiatives in progress in China, Korea, India, and in the European Union, all of which pose competition to the U.S. for leadership in this key emerging industry.

The panel's yearlong evaluation is the work of experts from government, the auto industry and environmental groups, including representatives from Ford Motor Co., the Center for Automotive Research, the International Council on Clean Transportation and others. The full report is available online at