Germany launched a campaign Wednesday to put 1 million electric cars on the road by 2020, making battery research a priority as it tries to position the country as a market leader.
The program, which draws on $705 million set aside in an economic stimulus package earlier this year but leaves many financing details up to the next government, drew criticism for being too vague.
"It is our aim to make Germany into the market leader for electric mobility," Economy Minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg said after the Cabinet approved the plan.
He said the 1 million target by 2020 "is an ambitious aim, but one that we believe can be realized." Germany had more than 41 million cars on the road at the beginning of this year — only 1,452 of them electric cars.
The government plans to spend $162 million examining in eight test regions how the cars could best be introduced.
It also plans to put about $240 million into research on the batteries that power electric cars, making domestic production a priority and ensuring that German experts are trained in the technology.
"It is important that we couple a hopefully decreasing dependency on oil imports with not suddenly becoming dependent on battery imports," Guttenberg said.
The plan calls for electric cars to be put on the market starting in 2012, but does not specify what if any incentives might be offered to would-be buyers. Guttenberg said a market introduction plan would be examined, and financing would be a question for the next government.
Germany votes on Sept. 27 and the next government is sure to include at least one of the two partners in Chancellor Angela Merkel's "grand coalition" of the country's biggest parties.
Opposition parties welcomed approval of the plan, but said it is far too short on both specifics and money.
The program is "significantly underfunded," Green party lawmaker Baerbel Hoehn said, comparing the 500 million euros announced so far with the 5 billion euros that the government is sinking this year into a bonus for Germans who scrap old cars and buy new ones.
Earlier this month, President Obama announced $2.4 billion in federal grants to develop next-generation electric vehicles and batteries in the U.S.
Hoehn's party advocates a $7,050 subsidy for people who buy electric cars, which she argued would speed up their adoption. "Without support for the market introduction, the development plan is missing a significant factor for success," she said.
Germany's car companies have scrambled to catch up to their competitors elsewhere in electric technology.
Earlier this month, Japan's Nissan Motor unveiled the Leaf, an electric car that has a range of 100 miles on a single battery charge that is scheduled to go into mass production for a global market in 2012.
In June, Nissan's smaller Japanese rival, Mitsubishi Motors, launched its electric vehicle, the $48,300 i-MiEV.
Elsewhere, others are planning their own electric cars, including Chinese automarker Dongfeng Motor, which has teamed up with a Dutch company to develop and make them.
In the U.S., General Motors is set to release next year its Chevrolet Volt, a rechargeable electric vehicle. Ford's first battery electric vehicle, the Transit Connect commercial van, will be available next year. A battery electric Ford Focus compact car will go on sale in 2011. Chrysler has said its first electric vehicle will be available in 2010.
Germany's Volkswagen has said it hopes to introduce its first electric cars on the market in 2013, while Daimler is working together with California-based electric carmaker Tesla Motors on developing better battery and electric drive systems for vehicles destined for the consumer market.
Daimler and utility RWE plan to unveil a joint electric car and charging station test in Berlin by the end of this year.