WASHINGTON/DETROIT Jan 31 The U.S. Department
of Energy laid out a strategy on Thursday to promote green cars
and lower their cost over the next nine years, but eased off its
previously stated goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the
road by 2015.
The plans, outlined by Energy Secretary Steven Chu in a
speech at the Washington D.C. auto show, represent the first
look at how U.S. auto policy will take shape during President
Barack Obama's second term.
They also reflect what auto experts say is a more realistic
outlook for the pace of electric vehicle adoption among American
consumers, who have been cool to EVs because of high cost and
the limited charging infrastructure in the United States.
"Whether we meet that goal in 2015 or 2016, that's less
important than that we're on the right path to get many millions
of these vehicles on the road," an Energy Department official
Shoring up the U.S. auto industry was one of the key pillars
of Obama's first term, starting with the federally funded
bankruptcies of General Motors Co and Chrysler Group LLC
But promoting advanced vehicles has been a long-running
focus for the White House, which has also pushed for more
stringent standards on fuel economy that call for automakers to
improve dramatically the mileage of their overall fleets.
During his 2011 State of the Union address, Obama also
called for putting 1 million electric vehicles on the road by
2015. Overall, U.S. federal policies to promote electric
vehicles will cost $7.5 billion through 2019, the Congressional
Budget Office said in September.
That includes $2.4 billion in grants to lithium-ion battery
makers and projects to promote electric vehicles as well as $3.1
billion in loans to auto companies, intended to spur production
of fuel-efficient vehicles.
But demand for hybrids and electric vehicles has been weaker
than expected, and analysts and industry executives have long
been skeptical that Obama's goal of 1 million EVs on the road by
2015 was realistic.
Poor demand has hurt lithium-ion battery makers, pushing two
DOE grant recipients, A123 Systems Inc and EnerDel,
to file for bankruptcy protection. Dow Chemical Co took
a $1.1 billion charge last year, related in part to a writedown
of its lithium-ion battery business, Dow-Kokam LLC.
Under the new strategy outlined on Thursday, the DOE is
supporting research into new battery technologies and
manufacturing methods that would lower the cost of lightweight
materials and improve vehicles' fuel-efficiency.
The DOE also confirmed its goal to lower the cost of
lithium-ion batteries to $300 per kilowatt hour from the present
Ultimately, the department's goal is to have about 500
companies offer workplace charging over the next five years.
Several companies are already on board, including Google Inc
and General Electric Co.