During his 2008 campaign for president, Barack Obama famously said that he wanted one million plug-in cars on U.S. roads by 2015.

That's a goal that many experts continue to think will be extremely hard to attain.

Now California has adopted the same goal for the state alone, but with a different and longer timeframe.

For the Golden State, the deadline is 2020--one that may be much easier to meet.

California is America's car theft capital

California is America's car theft capital

Clean energy plans

The state unveiled a clean energy plan yesterday that laid out goals and milestones toward reducing both its energy consumption and its contribution to global greenhouse gases, as mandated by the Global Warming Solutions Act (AB32), enacted in 2006, which sets limits on overall emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases within the state.

(That groundbreaking rule is being challenged by a November ballot initiative that would delay or roll back its provisions.)

The energy plan mandates that as much as 30 percent of the state's electric power be generated from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020. Today's total is less than half that.

2011 Coda Sedan

2011 Coda Sedan

More zero-emission vehicles

And it requires that automakers sell a significant percentage of automakers' sales in California come from zero-emissions vehicles--either plug-ins or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles--by 2018. The specific numbers are still being debated, and the California Air Resources Board (CARB) won't propose them until next year.

Unlike previous ZEV mandates in California, that date recognizes reality: Eight model years from now, virtually every major manufacturer will offer at least one plug-in hybrid or full battery electric vehicle in its portfolio.

And Nissan says that by 2020, as much as 10 percent of its global production will be battery electric cars--a projection, again, that has been viewed with great skepticism by industry analysts who feel the technology will still be too expensive and consumers will be resistant.

Among the plug-in vehicles entering the U.S. market within the next six months are the 2011 Nissan Leaf, the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and the 2011 Coda Sedan.

2011 Nissan Leaf

2011 Nissan Leaf

Will there be a market?

The challenge with Obama's goal is that many industry analysts remain skeptical that plug-in vehicles will be manufactured in sufficient numbers by 2015 to achieve that volume.

And even if production capacity exists, the high price of early electrics may inhibit the kind of consumer demand that would help boost adoption beyond government and private fleets.

After all, while consumers are eager to test-drive electric vehicles, they don't want to pay any more for them up front than for regular cars--even if they understand the vastly lower running costs over the lifetime of a plug-in.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

New alliance: "EV20"

That number of one million seems to resonate, though. A new alliance among business and government leaders convened a roundtable in New York on Monday as part of Climate Week, a gathering of policy-makers in government, industry, and nonprofits organized by The Climate Group the Clinton Initiative.

The "EV20" group discussion was closed to the press, so we can't report on the debate. But the press release issued yesterday says that the group wants global automakers to commit to produce an additional 1 million electric vehicles--on top of their current production plan--by 2015.

The announcement by the EV20 alliance, formed by a non-governmental organization known as The Climate Group, is heavy on words like "alliances", "frameworks", and "solutions".

But the nuts and bolts of how it hopes to accomplish that include coordinating large corporations with international fleets to agree on electric-car procurement goals, assisting governments--at national, state, and local levels--to develop EV-friendly policies, and suggesting ways to finance the necessary infrastructure.

Watch for more million-EV goals to emerge from various and sundry groups. In a future article, Green Car Reports will look at what kinds of plug-in vehicle volumes may be realistic for the global auto industry.

[Detroit News]