DETROIT -- Any attempt to create a market for electric vehicles in the United States is likely to fail unless the federal government sets clear priorities, a top supplier executive warned today.
Rodney O'Neal, CEO of Delphi Automotive, said at least three issues are "not yet solved": vehicle cost, limited range and a reliable electric power grid.
In a speech at the SAE 2011 World Congress, O'Neal said that regulators and elected officials have sent conflicting signals about the EV industry's goals.
Is the nation's top priority energy independence? Then the industry might create fleets of EVs powered by electricity from coal plants.
Is the top priority clean air? Then EV fleets might be powered by electricity from power plants fueled by nuclear energy and other noncoal fuels.
The European Union's top priority is clean air, O'Neil said, while China's top mandate is energy independence. Both entities have set their energy policies accordingly.
In contrast, the U.S. government has straddled those two goals. "Policymakers have created a muddled mission, with alternative powertrains and traditional internal combustion engines in competition with one another," O'Neal said.
The Obama administration has said it will require all new cars and trucks bought by the federal government to be hybrids, EVs and other alternative-fuel vehicles starting in 2015. That's in addition to the government's goal to have 1 million electric cars and hybrids on the road by 2015.
And by 2025, the government wants to reduce oil imports by one-third.
But without a coherent energy policy, some industry analysts have predicted a wave of failures among producers of EV batteries, vehicles and equipment.
"As long as we have these unresolved challenges, we will have to place incremental bets on all technologies," O'Neal said. "There are lots of ideas and opportunities, but we won't be able to afford to chase them all."