The president backed up his prediction with $2.4 billion in federal grants to companies producing lithium-ion batteries for plug-in cars.
But reality hasn’t even come close.
Despite massive federal spending on electric vehicles, which is expected to total $7.9 billion through 2019, there are currently just 286,390 plug-in vehicles on the nation’s roads today, according to the Electric Drive Transportation Association (EDTA).
That’s 72 percent lower than the million electric vehicles the president predicted four years ago. And with gasoline prices now averaging $2.06 per gallon, the lowest they’ve been since April 2009, that percentage is not likely to change any time soon.
Despite steep discounts, manufacturers’ rebates, federal and state tax credits, and even special utility rates in some areas, plug-in electric vehicles accounted for just 3.5 percent of the more than 16.4 million light vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2014, according to EDTA.
Most of the 118,773 plug-in electric vehicles sold in the U.S. last year were in California, which has one of the strictest emissions standards in the nation, but which also provides state rebates up to $2,500 for all-electric vehicles and $1,500 for gas/electric hybrids, EDTA reported.
With the exception of the all-electric Tesla Model S, which lost market share, total sales of electric plug-in vehicles increased 35 percent last year. But they were eclipsed tenfold by just the three top-selling combustible engine vehicles in America – all pickup trucks – which alone accounted for 1.7 million in sales in 2014.
Ford’s F-Series pickup retained its position as the most popular vehicle in America with 753,851 sold nationwide, according to national sales figures compiled by Good Car Bad Car. Chevrolet’s Silverado pickup came in second with 529,755 sold last year. The Dodge Ram pickup was third with 439,789 vehicles sold last year.
In contrast, the three top-selling electric plug-in models were the Nissan Leaf (30,200 sold), the Chevrolet Volt (18,805 sold) and the Toyota Prius HPV (13,264 sold). By this time, General Motors was supposed to be selling 120,000 Volts annually and Nissan 100,000 plug-in Leafs, according to a 2011 DOE report.
The higher initial cost of an all-electric vehicle is one reason they are so unattractive to consumers.
The Associated Press calculated that even with a 16 percent sticker price discount and a $7,500 federal tax credit, “it would take five years to pay off the difference in price” between an electric Ford Focus and the popular gas-powered model.
The other major obstacle is driving range. The all-electric Focus has a maximum driving range of just 76 miles on a full battery and few electric cars can go more than a hundred miles before needing to be recharged.
Although Obama backed up his prediction four years ago with $2.4 billion in federal grants to companies producing lithium-ion batteries to power electric cars, there has been no major breakthroughs that make them economically competitive with gas- and diesel-fueled vehicles, which have become far more fuel-efficient in the meantime.
In fact, with new advances being made in the internal combustion engine, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) predicts that gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles will still make up 95 percent of all light duty vehicles sold in 2040.
“Taking the infrastructure we have, using engines we understand with no new costs—that is where we are going in the next 15 years and what is going to compete really effectively with electrics,” said Don Hillebrand, head of the advanced combustion unit at the federally-funded Argonne National Laboratory in Lemont, Ill.
Earlier this month, Energy Sec. Ernest Moniz announced another $55 million program to “develop and deploy cutting-edge vehicle technologies that strengthen the economy,” according to the Department of Energy (DOE).
The money will be spent on research “that aim to reduce the price and improve the efficiency of plug-in electric, alternative fuel, and conventional vehicles,” including “advanced batteries” and “lightweight materials.”
But there will also be funding for “advanced combustion engines” and vehicles that run on natural gas instead of petroleum, Moniz said.