When you set big goals, sometimes you set yourself up for big failure. President Barack Obama’s lofty plans to put more fuel-efficient vehicles on the roads crashed headlong into the realities of the marketplace. Even so, there is value in striving to attain a noble end, especially a difficult one.
In 2011, the president shared his vision of a future in which the nation’s cars emitted far less greenhouse gases. “I’m directing our departments and our agencies to make sure 100 percent of the vehicles they buy are fuel-efficient or clean-energy cars and trucks by 2015. Not 50 percent, not 75 percent – of our vehicles,” he said.
Obama also wanted 1 million electric cars on the road by now.
We all let the president down on that latter target. Car buyers purchased about 287,000 plug-in vehicles in the past few years, far short Obama’s goal. Americans’ appetite for electric cars is not so great when gas prices settle down. Nor are they willing to be tethered by limited range and performance of today’s battery-powered cars. There’s always a Tesla, but few people can afford such luxury.
Many state governments have not exactly joined the green wave, either. Look at Missouri. The state fleet has 10,014 vehicles. Only 13 — about one-tenth of 1 percent — are hybrid or electric. Indeed, the most recent state fleet report does not even include the words ‘electric’ or ‘hybrid.’
A legislature that focuses on short-budget savings misses the bigger long-term ones. State workers in Missouri drive more than 150 million miles on state business every year. Increasing average fleet fuel efficiency by just one mile per gallon would save hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.
Yet if Americans could not reach Obama’s high targets, neither could his executive branch. Since he took office, only 7 percent of the new vehicles the federal government purchased were electric or hybrid.
With the 2015 deadline a bust, Obama issued a new executive order earlier this year.
By 2025, he wants to reduce the per-mile greenhouse gas emissions of the federal fleet by 30 percent from 2014 levels. He also wants 50 percent of the new cars the federal government buys to be zero-emission or plug-in hybrids.
Those goals might be more attainable, but Obama’s opportunity for success has closed on this particular issue. His executive order is only as good as the next president’s willingness to abide by it.
Still, setting the loftiest of goals and striving to reach them can lead to progress even if the end remains elusive. Fuel efficiency nationwide is trending upward, and technology is improving the quality and reducing the cost of fuel-efficient vehicles.
No, America did not buy as many fuel-efficient vehicles as Obama wanted, but ambitious goals are necessary in the face of finite fossil fuel resources and climate change. The American spirit is to tackle the greatest challenges head on, not to sit complacently while things fall apart.