One Million Plug-in Cars by 2015?

Why nobody agrees on how many plug-ins will be on U.S. roads

4 min read

Since 2008, Barack Obama has consistently promoted the goal of having 1 million advanced technology vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015. The number refers to plug-in vehicles that use grid power, stored in lithium-ion battery packs, to operate their electric traction motors. Regular hybrids like the Toyota Prius don't do that. The all-electric Nissan Leaf, the series hybrid Chevy Volt, and an upcoming plug-in hybrid version of the Prius do.

But recent analyses by experts and industry analysts differ sharply on whether that number is achievable. Many say that high cost, limited range, a nascent supply chain, and consumer hesitancy will make 1 million vehicles in five years impossible.

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We Need More Than Just Electric Vehicles

To decarbonize road transport we need to complement EVs with bikes, rail, city planning, and alternative energy

11 min read
A worker works on the frame of a car on an assembly line.

China has more EVs than any other country—but it also gets most of its electricity from coal.

VCG/Getty Images

EVs have finally come of age. The total cost of purchasing and driving one—the cost of ownership—has fallen nearly to parity with a typical gasoline-fueled car. Scientists and engineers have extended the range of EVs by cramming ever more energy into their batteries, and vehicle-charging networks have expanded in many countries. In the United States, for example, there are more than 49,000 public charging stations, and it is now possible to drive an EV from New York to California using public charging networks.

With all this, consumers and policymakers alike are hopeful that society will soon greatly reduce its carbon emissions by replacing today’s cars with electric vehicles. Indeed, adopting electric vehicles will go a long way in helping to improve environmental outcomes. But EVs come with important weaknesses, and so people shouldn’t count on them alone to do the job, even for the transportation sector.

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