02.21.2011 - by Plug In America
The Road Ahead: Accelerating EV Production

As I write this, at least two of Plug In America’s co-founders have taken possession of their new Nissan Leaf electric cars, and three drive Tesla Roadsters. Other drivers are steering new Chevy Volt plug-in hybrids on the roads. More are being delivered every day. Is Plug In America’s work done? Hardly. We need to accelerate the drive to electrification of transportation.

Image courtesy of Tesla Motors.

It’s immensely rewarding to see our years-long efforts pay off in a new generation of plug-in vehicles. But that’s just the beginning, really. Whether you’re hungering for plug-in cars to end our transportation system’s addiction to oil, or to mitigate the disastrous effects of global warming, or to provide an affordable alternative when peak oil prices hit the roof at gas stations, we need more plug-in cars replacing gas guzzlers as quickly as possible.

Automakers’ current plans for EV/PHEV production don’t come close to the volumes of plug-in cars we need to meet any of these goals. While Nissan, GM and Tesla seem to be serious about selling plug-in vehicles, others seem to be following their old strategies of gaming clean-air regulators by making plug-in vehicles “available” only by temporary lease or conducting repeated and lengthy “test projects” instead of offering consumers real plug-in cars. BMW, Toyota and others — I’m lookin’ at you!

Here’s a video excerpt of a talk that I gave at Bioneers in the Fall of 2010 that looks at this topic strictly from the environmental angle — how many EVs do we need in how many years in order to reach the widely-accepted goal of reducing greenhouse gases by 80% (compared with 1990 levels) in order to avoid the worst effects of global warming?

First, an acknowledgement, a correction, and an addition to the video. Plug In America’s newest board member, Tom Saxton, helped me with the numbers crunching and created the graphs. Thank you, Tom! Part of the graphs are cut off in the video field of vision, so here are the three graphs. On the left of each is the number of cars sold. On the bottom is the years. On the right is the percentage of greenhouse gas emissions relative to 100% at 1990 levels. The green line needs to get to 20% on the right, which would be an 80% reduction by 2050.

First we looked at the numbers of vehicles that automakers have said they will produce through 2012. (That number has increased slightly since GM decided to produce more Volts.) We used optimistic forecasts by automakers and pundits of plug-in production through 2020, then increased that so that by 2050, 30% of new cars sold would be EVs. Correction: In the video, I say that by 2050 this would result in a greenhouse gas reduction of “less than 20%” compared with baseline, but I meant to say “less than 30%.” So, fail — we need an 80% reduction.

Second, we imagined a crisis mentality (which is really what we need) that gets automakers to rapidly ramp up production of plug-in vehicles starting in 2013 so that by 2031, 95% of new cars sold would be plug-ins. (Blue shaded area represents plug-in car sales and red represents gassers.) If we did that, we could meet 2050 emissions targets. Keep in mind, none of the automakers are talking about doing this. None of our politicians or policymakers are talking about making this happen. The only ones talking about this scenario, as far as I know, are Plug In America and our environmental allies. I suspect that when gas prices at the pump get back to $4 or more, a lot more people will be interested in a more rapid shift to electricity.

But that second scenario assumes that the total number of U.S. vehicles sold doesn’t grow. More realistically, in our third graph, we assume a 2% per year growth in car sales. Even with that crisis mentality and super-rapid ramp-up to EV production, we’re left with only a 60% reduction in emissions by 2050. Fail.

One important addition: In the video, I say that we need to start the massive shift to EVs but also must get people out of cars in order to reach 2050 emissions targets. I also meant to say that a massive shift to EVs plus cleaning up our power grid would be enough to reach 2050 emissions targets. Get our power plants off of fossil fuels and get drivers into plug-in cars — quickly — and we’ll have a chance to avoid the worst effects of global warming.

So if you’ve been wondering whether Plug In America’s work is done, the answer is “No.” We’re in our new EVs, at the starting line of the drag strip, waiting for the light to turn green, and hoping we have enough supporters to fuel us to the finish line in record time. It’s the only way to win this race.

– Sherry

(p.s. If you haven’t already, please join Plug In America today.)



4 comments on “The Road Ahead: Accelerating EV Production”
  1. Steven M says:

    This is what we need, numbers!! Well done.. Nice to have a better idea of how much things would need to change in order to hit certain emissions targets.

    So is this number crunching just for considering how a change in our choice of cars alone could lead to achieving the desired emission rates by 80%? If so, I suppose then if we can be more efficient in other areas, it can happen quicker and easier. I don’t remember what the other big carbon generators were, but I think they are covered in “An Inconvenient Truth” anyways.

    Thanks again for this more tangible information…

    1. Sherry says:

      Thanks, Steven. Yes, this analysis was for U.S. “light duty vehicles” only (cars and light trucks). The other sources of greenhouse gas emissions in our society also will need to cut emissions by at least 80% by 2050. The only emissions source that my analysis overlapped with is the U.S. electrical grid. The faster we can stop burning fossil fuels in our power plants, the easier our EV target numbers become, though we will still need a very rapid shift in both sectors.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I have been ready to purchase an electric vehicle for years. Placed mony down a year ago for a Leaf, but sadly (from an EV point of view) I live in the beautiful state of Idaho. Most of the US is not included in the “chosen” markets. Not that long ago there were no announced plans to even sell EVs in most states. I think there should be incentives to “encourage” the manufacturers to actually allow sales to other (ALL!) states.

    So not only do they not produce enough for a significant impact, they won’t even allow many early adopter wanna-be’s to even purchase a vehicle.

    I just called the local Nissan dealer (I live in the state capital), and they still have no committed date for even a test drive vehicle. Chevy has a chart showing the Volt may be available by the end of the year, but nothing definite. Ford won’t commit to anything but the chosen few areas, and Toyota has hinted at limiting the Rav4EV to the same limited areas.

    What do the majority of US citizens have to do to be allowed to purchase one of these vehicles – Move?

    1. Sherry says:

      I get it. As someone who has fought for the past 7 years to stop the destruction of the previous generation of EVs and to get new EVs for sale, I know the wait is hard. The only thing that helps, I found, is to keep pushing for change — faster change. Tell the car companies that you will not buy another new car unless it has a plug. Push your elected representatives and demand that they incentivize the electrification of transportation. Contact the media. Support groups like Plug In America. Our Take Action page gives you tools to do all these things. And in the meantime, if you want to take matters into your own hands, you could follow the inspiring example of Andrew Bell, who grew tired of waiting for automakers to bring plug-ins to the Canadian province of Alberta, so he bought a Prius and converted it. Read my blog post on his story.

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