Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise has been watching the climate world since 2009. What she sees isn't pretty.
Only 40% of Obama’s electric cars are on the road. None meet the 150-mile-per gallon standard he promised.
Last year 17.5 million cars, SUVs, and light-weight trucks were sold in America. A mere 115,000 of those (two-thirds of one percent) were electric vehicles. Let’s press the rewind button back to the 2008 presidential campaign trail, in which Barack Obama declared:
we will help states like Michigan build the fuel-efficient cars we need, and we will get one million 150 mile-per-gallon plug-in hybrids on our roads within six years. [bold added]
In March 2009, two months after he became President, Obama delivered a speech at the Southern California Edison Electric Vehicle Technical Center in which he similarly asserted:
we will put one million plug-in hybrid vehicles on America’s roads by 2015.
In these closing months of 2016, it’s reasonable to ask how those green promises worked out. In short: abysmally.
Governments at both the state and national level have tried to persuade consumers to buy electric vehicles by offering rebates totaling thousands of dollars a pop. But only about 400,000 are currently on US roads, including those purchased by government bodies. The only way we reach a million is by counting all the electric vehicles in the entire world.
Despite spending billions, Obama delivered less than half of the electric cars in the time frame he promised. And let’s not forget his insistence that these cars would achieve the equivalent of 150 miles per gallon. A 2016 US Department of Energy list of the 11 most efficient electric vehicles indicates that not a single one meets that criteria. BMW’s i3 achieves 124 miles per gallon. The Chevrolet Spark is in second place at 119, and Vokswagen’s e-Golf is in third at 116.
The 11 best-case-scenario electric vehicles on the road eight years later fall 25% short of what Obama said would be entirely normal. Between them, they average only 112 miles per gallon. In other words, Obama and his speech writers were pulling numbers out of the air in 2008, confidently promising to meet goals they had no reason to believe were actually feasible.
Time and again, we run up against this problem. Anyone can stand at a podium and promise to make all manner of green fantasies come true. But even US presidents with billions at their command aren’t magicians. Barring unexpected developments, changing the way we fuel our cars and heat our homes will be a long term, gradual process.
There aren’t any silver bullets. We need to stop imagining otherwise.