Obama’s 1M electric car goal could be difficult

A reporter recently asked me if I thought the U.S. would be able to reach President Obama’s goal of putting 1 million electric cars on the road in the U.S. by 2015. I’m not sure, I said, but I think that we could potentially come close. But that got me thinking, given some of the struggles of companies like Think and the delays from Fisker, will we be able to reach the 1 million EV goal by 2015?

Here’s what the Department of Energy said back in February about which cars would deliver what part of the goal. It should be noted that the DOE didn’t include estimates from Coda Automotive, Honda, and Mitsubishi which will likely deliver some volumes of cars between now and 2015. But let’s look at the numbers below and see what is still there. A couple months ago Pike Research said that it thinks that we might end up seeing about 667,000 plug-in electric cars sold by 2015 instead of the 1 million.

Think EV: From the get-go we can cross off the 57,000 cars from the Think City EV. The company filed for bankruptcy this summer, and though it was acquired by an investor, I don’t think it will be producing any cars anytime soon. That takes us down to 1,165,200.

Tesla: Tesla will sell 2,500 of its Roadster car in 2011 and 2012, so that adds another 1,500 cars, bringing us up slightly to 1,166,700. The numbers for Tesla’s Model S seem to be on track with those on the list.

Smith Electric Vehicles: Electric fleet maker Smith Electric Vehicles recently filed for an IPO, so has revealed its latest figures for how many cars it thinks it can produce. Smith says it has sold 320 vehicles for the year ending Sept. 30, 2011, has a backlog of 120 vehicles, and has pre-sold 540 vehicles, which it will make through July 2012. So after the Summer of 2012, Smith will have made and sold about 1,000 electric cars. That’s close to half of what the DOE was expecting by then. Smith says it make another 2,220 vehicles between 2012 and 2015, while the DOE was predicting 4,000 vehicles from it (1,000 per year) by the end of 2015. I think we can conservatively cut Smith’s contribution by a third of what the DOE estimated, bringing us down by 1,600, roughly what the extra Roadster sales contributed, 1,165,100.

Nissan LEAF: Nissan said about a month ago that it had sold 15,000 LEAFs globally. The DOE predicted that there would be 25,000 LEAFS just in the U.S. by 2011. Conservatively I think we can cut 10,000 cars off the DOE’s 2011 LEAF figure, bringing it to 1,155,100.

Navistar eStar: I’m not sure on the latest numbers for this company, but I’ve contacted the company and will update this when I know more. Navistar was given a $39.2 million grant in 2009 under the $2.4 billion stimulus program, and the company hoped to deliver 400 eStars by the end of 2010. It launched eStars for its first customer FedEx in the Summer of 2010. But I don’t think its goals have been met, and the DOE estimates for its status report that it thinks Navistar can deliver 200 eStars by the end of 2011. Given that lag time I would bet that the Navistar numbers for the DOE status report are lower, but I’ll since they were already low, I’ll keep them as is for now.

GM Volt: O.K. now for a big one. According to the DOE numbers, GM is supposed to produce 15,000 Volts by the end of 2011, though more recent figures put GM’s own estimates for 10,000 in 2011. According to Wired last month GM had shipped about 4,000 Volts off of the lot by the end of September. GM sold 723 Volts in the month of September. So let’s give GM the benefit of the doubt and say it will  sell 1,000 Volts each month for October, November and December. So that would mean GM would have shipped 7,000 Volts for 2011, less than half of what the DOE was predicting for 2011.

Then the DOE says that GM is supposed to produce 120,000 Volts for 2012. That number is way high. According to reports GM intends to likely produce 45,000 Volts for U.S. dealers in 2012, and will make more cars for other markets. So we can cut the 2011 figure by 8,000, and the 2012 number by 75,000. Bringing us to 1,072,100.

DOE is depending on GM to make and sell 120,000 Volts for the U.S. market each year in 2013/2014/2015. It will probably end up being more like half that figure at 60,000 cars for at least 2013, though it could ramp up in 2014 and 2015. Giving the DOE the benefit of the doubt for 2014/2015, let’s shave off another 60,000 for 2013, to bring it to 1,012,100.

Ford Focus EV: Ford won’t even start selling its Focus EV until the end of 2011, and just opened a website to accept reservations. The DOE thinks it can produce and sell 10,000 Ford Focus EV’s in 2012. Ford hasn’t said how many it intends to produce, but if it sells 10,000 it would mean the Ford Focus EV would sell more than the Volt in its first year. Doable? Let’s keep the number the same on that for now.

Fisker: And now to Fisker, which has delayed production and salesof its Karma car, and plans to produce the car in small volumes in the fourth quarter of 2011 and the first quarter of 2012, and then ramp up to volume production in 2012. The production of 1,000 Karmas in 2011 doesn’t

Coda sedan

seem realistic, as last I heard Fisker had shipped 40 cars from its partner’s plant in Finland in mid October. Let’s say Fisker produces and ships 200 Karmas in 2011. Let’s cut the DOE’s Fisker Karma estimate by 800, bringing the number down to 1,011,300.

Fisker says its Nina won’t be produced in volume until mid-2013, with prototype production starting in late 2012. That’s assuming this car is coming out at all (the skeptic in me says it’s 50/50 at this point). Erase those entire 5,000 cars that the DOE says will come from the Nina in 2012, bringing us to 1,006,300. Since Fisker isn’t going into volume production until mid-2013, I think we can cut its 2013 estimates in half, by 20,000, bringing us to 986,300. I’ll leave the 2014 and 2015 Nina DOE estimates alone, but they seem rather unreasonable at 45,000 Ninas produced and sold in 2014 and 75,000 in 2015.

Coda: The DOE didn’t take Coda into account for that table, so let’s add in some cars for Coda, as it will start shipping its first Codas to dealers in December. Let’s say Coda sells 2,500 Codas in 2012 (it’s estimated 14,000 in its first year, 7,000 for consumers and 7,000 for fleets, but that sounds high), and 5,000 each year for 2013, 2014, and 2015. So I’ll add that backup to 1,003,800.


All of this math is based on guesses and assumption, but I’m trying to give you a picture for how close this is going to be. I’m also being conservative in assuming that Fisker stays afloat and is able to ramp up volume production of its Karma, and then is able to produce the Nina at all — the DOE estimates that the Nina will give close to 200,000 EVs to its 1 million total by 2015! So if the Nina doesn’t emerge or struggles the numbers will go waaaay down.

In addition if GM doesn’t ramp its Volt up to 120,000 per year, it will also cut the total significantly. The DOE was assuming about 500,000 EVs to come from the Volt for its estimates. Essentially between the Nina and the Volt, the DOE thinks close to half of the volume will come from them!

Finally some companies that are meeting their milestones could end up producing more cars than previously estimated. Tesla will be unveiling its Model X, a cool SUV minivan, which will likely go on sale before 2015.

It’s going to be close — very close — for the U.S. to meet its goal to put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2015. As I said earlier Pike Research thinks that we might end up seeing about 667,000 plug-in electric cars sold by 2015, instead of the 1 million.