Efforts continue, but one-year clock for creating all-plug-in White House fleet expired a year ago
During the presidential campaign, Barack Obama promised that "within one year of becoming president, the entire White House fleet will be converted to plug-ins as security permits." In late 2009 -- about 11 months into his presidency and one month before his self-imposed deadline -- we rated the promise In the Works, based on White House assurances that an ongoing update of the automotive fleet was being done in an environmentally sensitive fashion.
The White House says that installation of the electrical infrastructure to make this happen is under way as part of a major utility upgrade at the White House. "Electrical infrastructure for vehicle charging stations for government owned plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles is in the process of being installed on the White House campus,” said White House spokeswoman Katherine Bedingfield.
Still, when it made this promise, the White House set a specific timetable, even though the state of the technology and the commercial market -- not to mention the special security requirements of carrying the president and foreign leaders -- all but guaranteed that it would be a nonstarter from the moment Obama made the promise.
As we noted last time, plug-ins are a work in progress. They are cars that can be charged using ordinary household electricity and that operate without gasoline, though they may have a gasoline engine as a backup. Since our last update, the plug-in market has grown significantly. Already, two major-company offerings are available, at least in limited markets -- the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF. Others are slated to be available beginning in 2011.
While the White House may eventually be able to achieve its goal of converting the White House fleet to plug-ins that use the infrastructure now being installed, this is one of a handful of promises that came with a specified time limit -- and the White House did not meet that deadline, which came and went almost a year ago. So we're calling it a Promise Broken.
White House fails to meet overly aggressive promise requiring plug-in cars for White House fleet
Barack Obama promised that "within one year of becoming president, the entire White House fleet will be converted to plug-ins as security permits." It's coming up on a year and ... it hasn't happened. But the White House says it's still trying.
First, a little background on green cars. PolitiFact initially wrote a headline for this promise that said "Require hybrid fleet at the White House," but we've changed it because that terminology was actually a bit misleading.
Hybrids are cars that have an electric motor and rechargable batteries in addition to a regular gasoline engine, a combination that makes them much more fuel efficient. While hybrids are a relatively new commercial technology, there's already a well-established market, with most carmakers offering a variety of hybrid models, from coupes to SUVs. Toyota alone has sold well over 1 million Priuses worldwide.
But Obama said he would convert the fleet to "plug-ins," which are a subset of hybrids that can be plugged into ordinary household electricity and operate without using gasoline at all (though they do have a gasoline engine as a backup). This market is far less developed; the most highly anticipated model is the Chevy Volt, which won't even be available until at least 2010. Toyota recently announced that it would begin making a Prius plug-in available in early 2010.
There's also a category of pure plug-in electric cars without gasoline backup engines, but many of these are not yet in production or are specialized vehicles that aren't designed for the rigors of transporting and protecting the president (such as the Tesla Roadster, a $100,000 sports car that's already being sold).
The bottom line is that Obama seems to have gotten way ahead of the marketplace by setting a one-year deadline. Given the state of the technology and the commercial market -- not to mention the special security requirements of carrying the president and foreign leaders -- guaranteeing an all plug-in fleet by Jan. 20, 2010, was almost a nonstarter from the moment he made the promise.
However, the White House has not given up on the idea of assembling a greener fleet.
"We are currently in the process of updating the fleet and we"re making every effort to make as much of the fleet as green as possible," a White House official told PolitiFact. "The Environmental Protection Agency has been involved in these conversations. Of course, there are significant security restrictions that limit the green options for some of the vehicles in the fleet, but we are working to ensure that the fleet is as energy efficient as possible.”
We can't call this a Promise Broken because Obama hasn't been in office for a year yet. On the other hand, despite the White House's continuing efforts, Obama's pledge -- to implement an all-plug-in fleet, with up-to-snuff performance and security standards, in just a year -- was so unrealistic as to make it virtually impossible to fulfill. So we'll reach for an automotive term and call this promise Stalled.
on various hybrid and plug-in technologies, accessed Dec. 16, 2009
Wired.com, " Prius Sales Top 1 Million. Want One? Better Move Fast ," May 15, 2008
The Independent , " Toyota announces plug-in Prius ," Dec. 16, 2009
Keep an eye on the parking lot
We'll be watching the White House parking lot to see how many Priuses show up. Obama left himself some latitude for security needs (we don't think they make an armored Prius — yet), but there are still plenty of cars that could be switched. For now, we'll keep a rating of No Action, but we'll move this to In the Works as soon as we see some progress.