U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu estimates that plug-in vehicle battery costs will have dropped 70 percent between 2008 and 2015 and will fall another 58 percent between 2015 and 2020, giving hope to electric-drive vehicle advocates that the price premium for plug-ins relative to conventional vehicles will narrow during the next few years. Chu also said that the U.S. Energy Department is opening a research center dedicated to improve battery and energy-storage technologies for the transportation industry.

The advanced battery competition is a race the United States can and should win - Stephen Chu

Chu, in a speech at the Detroit Economic Club during the Detroit Auto Show (he's pictured above, right, speaking with Nissan's Mark Perry while checking out the Leaf), said that a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle battery that can provide 40 miles of all-electric range will cost $3,600 in 2015, down from $12,000 in 2008. That battery's cost will fall to just $1,500 by the end of the decade, Chu added. "The advanced battery competition is a race the United States can and should win," Chu said.

Greater adoption of electric-drive technologies will likely be necessary for the U.S. to meet proposed CAFE standards for light-duty vehicles of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, which is equivalent to about 40 miles per gallon measured by EPA standards. That would still be almost an 80 percent jump from 2010 model-year fleetwide fuel economy in the U.S.

Last year, Colorado-based Pike Research said Americans will buy about 300,000 BEVs and PHEVs in 2015, up from about 50,000 in 2011, while Michigan's Center for Automotive Research projected in early 2011 that U.S. electric-drive vehicle sales will increase to about 140,000 units in 2014 from about 30,000 last year.

This is not the first time Chu has strongly supported the idea of a plug-in vehicle, not by a long shot. As he said at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun in late 2010, battery-electric vehicles could be competitive with gas-powered cars within five years as technological advancements and greater BEV adoption helps push down battery costs and increase single-charge ranges.

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