Overall, the past year has been successful for electric vehicles, or EVs. Despite some bumps in the road, sales are charging forward. Automakers are making large investments that will bring dozens of new models on the market, growing competition and making EVs accessible for more drivers.
Keeping this technology in gear will take continued investment and commitment from automakers, government, and enthusiastic consumers. Introducing EVs to the market was always going to be a marathon, not a sprint. As with all emerging technologies, there will always be a mix of challenges and progress along the way.
Success by the numbers
Sales of plug-in electric cars (plug-in hybrids and battery electrics) tripled in model year 2012, their second year on the market. Plug-in hybrid sales have surpassed conventional hybrid sales during their own second year on the market in 2001. The most popular electric-drive vehicle, the Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, is outselling half of all cars on the market today. In the meantime, conventional hybrid sales grew by more than 50 percent in MY12, more than four times as fast as the rest of the vehicle market.
A near tripling in plug-in EV sales means a lot more batteries are being made, which will help drive down future costs and allow for greater range. The increased sales also mean that many more people are saving money on gas while becoming familiar with this new technology, an essential step to transition EVs from the early adopter market to the mainstream.
Economic and environmental advantages
Electric cars offer a host of benefits for consumers, our economy, our health and our planet, including:
- Consumer benefits: The growing number of plug-in EV models is good news for consumers, providing more options from which to choose. An electric car can save its owner $10,000 to $20,000 on fuel over its lifetime while providing a shield against the volatile oil market. And the convenience of charging up at home eliminates trips to the gas station.
- Oil-saving benefits: Expanded use of EVs will mean less oil as almost no electricity is generated from petroleum. Putting more EVs on the road is a necessary step toward cutting our country’s oil use in half within 20 years, according to UCS’s Half the Oil Plan.
- Climate benefits: UCS’s State of Charge analysis shows that in every corner of the country, consumers should feel confident that plugging their vehicle into the electricity grid is good for reducing global warming emissions and for cutting fueling costs compared to the average gasoline vehicle. In the regions with the cleanest electricity, driving an EV today produces less global warming emissions than a 70 mile per gallon gasoline vehicle. As the grid gets cleaner with the increasing use of renewable sources, EVs will become even cleaner.
- Industry benefits: Investing in EV technology, along with technologies that increase the efficiency of gasoline cars and trucks, will put the American auto industry back in the driver’s seat, supporting innovation and creating jobs.
EVs face continuing challenges to making in-roads into the larger car market, from the tough economy and higher initial costs to limited charging infrastructure. These challenges are not insurmountable, but government support is needed to build a successful and self-sustaining EV industry.
- Pure Battery Electrics: While much attention is paid to the range of battery EVs, most of today’s offerings with 70+ miles on a full charge cover far more than the average daily driving distance of Americans. These battery-only EVs offer the greatest fuel cost savings and can be a good fit for many consumers, particularly commuters with predictable driving patterns or those in households with more than one car – which is more than half of US households. Battery electric vehicles may take longer to expand their market share compared to plug-in hybrids as consumers need to understand how a battery electric car fits their lifestyle, but they have potential to be a lower cost option in the long run than plug-in hybrids.
- EV Hype: Another major challenge to the electric car industry comes from people who polarize and politicise its progress. Detractors declare failure if the new technology is not leading the race right out of the gate or when expected bumps in the road materialize. They also use unrealistic marketing goals as a yardstick for the success of EVs rather than looking at the real progress that has been made.
- Getting Through the Valley of Death: Electrification is a key long-term strategy for addressing the high public health, climate, and economic costs resulting from our nation’s oil consumption, but government support is needed to get the technology firmly on its feet. Wise investments in research and development, purchase incentives to drive up volume, expansion of charging infrastructure, and increasing community readiness for EVs will all help bring down technology costs while delivering benefits to consumers. Government has traditionally helped many energy technologies through the valley of death, and sometimes well beyond. The oil and gas industry, for example, has received $450 billion over last 90 years. Shifting support from well established, polluting industries to technologies that can save consumers money and cut oil consumption and emissions makes sense.
Many consumers want EVs. The sales figures back this up: they show a steadily growing consumer acceptance of EVs, just what you would expect from a developing market. Game-changing automotive technologies often take many years to become a significant part of the new-vehicle market. The Toyota Prius hybrid recently claimed the spot of best-selling car in California after 12 years on the market. EVs face higher hurdles than hybrids did a decade ago, so a steady increase in sales should be seen as a positive sign that EVs have a future in the US auto fleet.