President Barack Obama's campaign pledge to put 1 million plug-in hybrid cars on the road by 2015 is faced with technical and engineering hurdles and the realities of the economy and the price of gasoline. It took eight years to get 1 million hybrids on the road in the United States and the president's goal could help revitalize the struggling U.S. auto industry and begin shifting motorists away from the gas pump. President Obama toured a California Edison electric utility company electric car facility in Pomona, California in March where he announced $2.4 billion to develop advanced batteries and electric cars.
Plug-in hybrids allow motorists to drive a limited number of miles on battery power before the engine switches over to run on gasoline or other fuels. A driver can plug the car into a conventional wall outlet at night and be ready to go electric again in the morning. The cars could dramatically reduce gasoline use because many commuters drive less than 40 miles a day. The administration has said the vehicles would play a role in its goal to reduce dependence on foreign oil, cut greenhouse gas emissions and create "green" jobs.
During his campaign, Obama promised $4 billion in tax credits to automakers to revamp their plants to build plug-ins, and a $7,000 tax credit for consumers who buy early versions of the cars. He even pledged to convert the White House vehicle fleet to plug-ins within a year, as security permits, and require half of the cars bought by the government to be plug-in or all electric by 2012. The tax credits were included in the stimulus package.
One of the biggest hurdles is whether their large lithium ion batteries are ready for mass production. Some analysts have pegged the cost of the batteries at $1,000 per kilowatt hour, which could add about $16,000 to the cost of a first-generation Volt and thousands of dollars to a plug-in Prius. None of the major automakers has made a firm commitment on the mass production of plug-ins that would be required to meet Obama's goal. Conventional gas-electric hybrids account for less than 3 percent of the car market and it took about eight years to get 1 million hybrids on the road in the U.S., according to automotive consulting firm R.L. Polk & Company. (AP/AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)