Published on February 20th, 2014 | by Zachary Shahan


The Other #1 Reason Why Electric Cars Will Dominate The Car Market

February 20th, 2014 by  

electric car charging at homeYou may remember that I published an article at the end of December regarding the #1 reason I think electric cars are a disruptive technology and will come to dominate the car market much faster than most “experts” think. I think the whole article is worth a read (otherwise, I wouldn’t have written it), but the very short summary is: electric cars offer a much better driving experience. The article I just published an hour ago carries forward that idea, and is focused around Jeremy Grantham saying essentially the same thing.

However, I recently ran across another article with essentially the same title as that first one linked above — “The One Reason Tesla Motors, Inc. and Electric Vehicles Will Dethrone Gas-Powered Vehicles” — but it focuses on a different benefit of electric cars. There are many tremendous benefits of electric cars, and I think the one on which this lady, Beth McKenna, focuses is the #2 reason why electric cars will quickly come to dominate the car market, but perhaps she’s right and it is actually the #1 reason.

Before sharing the argument for this, I will quickly quote someone from the forum (a comment I’m going to come back to in a separate article):

Was charging my Volt at a Chevy dealership and was talking to a senior salesman. Apparently he had a Volt for a few years and traded it in for CTS in recent months, he missed the Volt the first time he went to the gas station… 

I asked him if he wanted to go Cadillac why not the ELR? He said it was not yet out and did not anticipate the unpleasantness of going back to gas. He had serious buyers remorse… He wished he waited for the ELR…

Yep, that’s a sure sign of a far superior product, as is the comment I hear repeatedly from male EV owners: “We got another electric car because my wife took away my [insert one of the following: Tesla Model S, Chevy Volt, Nissan Leaf…].”

Anyway, let’s get to an extended excerpt of McKenna’s article:

I believe there is one reason it is highly likely that EVs — with Tesla leading the way — will take the passenger-vehicle mantle from ICE vehicles: convenience. (Down the road, perhaps, EVs might be dethroned, and it would be terrific for us all if it were by solar-powered vehicles, but that’s a long way a-comin.’)

The U.S. is a “convenience society”
I realize boiling this big issue down to one key factor seems overly simplistic. However, what the consumer wants, the consumer usually gets — and what the U.S. consumer, in general, most craves is convenience, in my opinion.

The U.S. is a convenience society. We have drive-through everythings; Netflixkicked Blockbuster to the curb largely because of the convenience factor; GreenMountain Coffee Roasters’ Keurig has been phenomenally successful mainly because it’s ultra-convenient; and McDonald’s and the entire fast-food concept enjoy amazing success largely because of the ease factor.

Let’s not forget the poster child of convenience: online’s massive empire was built on convenience. And what’s the latest competitive space in that realm? Same-day delivery. Amazon, Wal-Mart, andGoogle, among others, see huge dollar signs in their corporate eyes in delivering even more convenience into consumers’ lives. Otherwise, would Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos be looking into using drones for short-distance same-day delivery? There are surely huge costs involved in getting that enterprise up and running. Google, likewise, apparently plans to spare no expense in capturing the convenience dollars up for grabs. It’s been widely speculated, including by The New York Times, that one reason Google’s been building up its massive robotics army — it bought eight robotics companies last year — is to use them in its retail delivery service.

Electric vehicles are largely “convenience vehicles” for many
EVs allow for the bulk of “fueling” to be done at the driver’s home, while he or she is sleeping away. And, when away from home, the driver will largely be able to plug in and charge up while parked at work, a restaurant, a shopping center, and so on. No need to go out of one’s way — even if it’s only a few blocks — to a gas station. Many people like this idea, and I’d venture to say that most of those same people likely don’t want to have to make pit stops at hydrogen fueling stations, either.

Additionally, EVs require less regular maintenance and likely fewer repairs than ICE vehicles — and who wouldn’t like that idea? This is a biggie with respect to both cost and convenience. 

Now, EVs might not be considered convenient for some folks because of their range. However, I think the “range anxiety” issue is largely blown out of proportion when it comes to Tesla’s vehicles.

The Model S with the 85 kW-h battery has a 265-mile range. Let’s somewhat arbitrarily even lop off 15% during poor driving conditions. That’s 225 miles.

Americans who drive passenger vehicles drive an average of 12,000 to 13,500 miles per year. That equates to 230 to 260 miles per week. We’re talking one or two charges per week, which, for those with a garage, or select other parking facilities, can be done overnight.

Sure, extended drives will mean stopping at a Tesla Supercharger station. I’d guess most people — especially those with kids — stop after a few hours on the road to eat and/or use restrooms, anyway. A 20-minute break allows a Model S to get enough juice at a Supercharger station for an additional 130 miles, while a 30-minute break will provide power for about 200 miles. Granted, these sites aren’t conveniently located for everyone yet. So it should go without saying that EVs aren’t currently a good fit for some. And for some consumers, such as those whose jobs involve regular long-distance driving, even a 265-mile-range vehicle might not ever be convenient.

As to Supercharger stations, Tesla is aggressively expanding its charging network. By 2015, 98% of the U.S. population (and parts of Canada) will live within the Model S rated-range of a station, per the company.

Down the road, EVs should become even more convenient, as battery and charging technology will almost surely improve, so ranges will increase and charging time will decrease.

It’s a strong argument. It’s why this is my #2 reason, but honestly, maybe it really should be #1. The thrill of driving an instant-torque electric car is great, but convenience is king.

I’ll just add one more note: the huge majority of people are not familiar with the Nissan Leaf (the top-selling electric car in the world), the Tesla Model S, or the Chevy Volt. Co-workers of Chevy Volt owners have reportedly thought that the Volt couldn’t be driven in heavy snow, while others think it needs to be charged at a special charging facility at the dealership. In other words: people are still clueless about electric cars. However, as they slowly come to find out that they can charge an electric car at home (even using a simple outlet) and almost never have to visit a gas station again, get ready for some disruption. Of course, I still think the test drive or driving a friend or family member’s electric car will be the “wow” factor that really gets the ball rolling. In the end, though, that 1-2 punch + massive fuel savings + the climate and environmental benefits will surely be enough to throw the automobile industry into another dimension.

Image: electric car charging at home via Shutterstock

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession and Solar Love. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, and Canada. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in. But he offers no professional investment advice and would rather not be responsible for you losing money, so don't jump to conclusions.

  • Robert Pollock

    Very similar story here; I sold my Tacoma and leased a Spark EV over two years ago. My wife’s MBenz SLK (2001 model, perfect) now has a cover and a reduced insurance deal that only lets her drive 1000 miles per year. I almost forget what color my car is, she uses it every day.
    We took the Benz to our specialist six months ago to do maintenance. When she drove her own car home (I followed in the electric) she pulled over because she thought it had to go back to the mechanic because “something is still broken”.
    We switched cars. There was nothing wrong with her Benz, it drove like the autobahn cruiser it is.

  • Tom Moore

    The back story of this argument is that many (a majority?) car owners do not have a garage, carport or designated parking space where it is possible to set up a dedicated charging outlet. They park on the street or in dynamically reallocated parking spaces at a housing complex. And the only cars with batteries big enough for several days of driving are so far in Teslas, with a limited number of charging points that are not intended for local travel but for highway trips. People wealthy enough to own a Tesla are likely to have their own charging points, but to capture this advantage for a wide range of prospective EV owners, progress is needed in making level 2 charging widely available in apartment, condominium, and townhouse complexes. People who don’t have it will not find an EV to be more convenient.

    • Bob_Wallace

      54% of all US drivers have a place to plug in where they now park, either at home or work.

      Of the 46% who do not currently have an available outlet the majority should be able to be served by adding more apartment/condo/workplace parking lot outlets.

      SoCal Edison recently put up $350 million to assist with installing 30,000 new outlets, mainly in workplace and apartment parking lots.

      EVs represent a new market for utilities. They should more than make up for market lost to efficiency and end-user solar. Other utility companies are likely to follow SCE’s lead and invest in market expansion.

      Longer range, more affordable EVs are on the way. Tesla should be introducing their Mod3 next year. More than 200 mile range with a $35,000 price tag. $27,500 after the federal subsidy. (The average price of a new auto in the US is over $32k.)

      • Tom Moore

        That’s very encouraging about SoCal Edison. We need that sort of thing in all parts of the country. Lower cost cars is part of the picture, too, but it’s really important to have home charging options for younger folks who would have a tough time negotiating and paying for a parking outlet to be installed some distance from their housing unit.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I suspect it’s a little early to get concerned about charging for the people who park on the street. They aren’t the people who are likely to purchase a $35k+ EV.

          There should be more than enough market for EVs with the 54% group.

          In a few years we should start to see less expensive EVs and affordable used EVs for sale. That’s when we’ll need curbside charging.

          • Tom Moore

            EVs start around $15k (used LEAF) these days. Those prices are depressed because of the lack of local charging infrastructure.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Try $11k. And I highly doubt the lack of places to charge is causing the low prices. There are over 210 million licensed US drivers. 54% of 210 million is 113 million.

            Prices are low, most likely, because most people don’t yet realize how inexpensive driving an EV is and how the limited range of a Leaf is not a real problem for about half of all drivers.

          • Tom Moore

            Ok, but that just underscores my point that the market is small in part because a lot of people (at least half) shopping in that price range will not have home charging to depend on, which means they aren’t beneficiaries of the original article’s “other reason EVs will dominate”. They are going to get an old Prius, at best, and more likely a beater Camry or Subaru.

          • Bob_Wallace

            With over 100 million potential buyers in the US I find it hard to believe that sales are constricted by a lack of potential buyers. But if that’s what you want to believe….

          • Tom Moore

            Maybe I’m just reacting to the persistent accusation that EVs are only for the well-to-do, and I have multiple children / nieces/ nephews who won’t go for one of them until they have a way to charge it at home.

          • neroden

            Bluntly, cars are only for the well-to-do. *Sigh* I know a fair number of people who have cars who *really cannot afford them*, but our country has been set up to make life difficult for people who can’t afford cars.

  • mds

    I respectfully disagree. The number 1 reason EVs/EREVs will dominate the light truck and car market is clearly cost. This is the most important consideration for the bulk of vehicle buyers and it is trump card for EVs. You can already make the case that some EVs are the better economic choice over the life of the car because of fuel cost savings and maintenance savings. Batteries are now dropping in cost more rapidly. The cost of electric motors and high-power electronics continues to drop, as well. EVs have far fewer parts than ICEVs. They will cost less to build in the near future.
    The EV1 cost on the order of $300,000 per unit …and it sucked compared to current EVs that cost around $30.000. EVs/EREVs will be the norm within the next decade or two, ICEVs/HEVs will be the exception. Seven more doublings. It is going to happen very fast.
    Regards and keep up the great work, mike

    • mds

      OK, cost combined with being a superior product…

      “‘Disruptive technologies’ get that name for a reason. When a superior product
      hits a certain price-point, more consumers start buying it. That leads to
      greater awareness, lower costs, and greater growth. Once that cycle starts,
      there’s no stopping it. The key here, though, is that the product be superior.
      And one of the key reasons disruptive technologies are so disruptive is that
      certain industry insiders and experts don’t realize the technology is so
      superior or coming down in cost so fast until it’s too late. Electric cars are
      far superior to gasmobiles. Many people experience that simply from driving
      one, or even driving in one! Owning one brings the awareness of superiority to
      an even greater degree.”

  • Lou

    One other point, the Tesla may not be the top selling electric car in volume of tires but… However, it does store more energy than the leaf combined (calculating number of sold Teslas x battery storage capability). If you’re not investing in Tesla; buy now!!! Tesla motors isn’t in business to sell electric cars to make money. They are in it to revolutionize private transportation. BIG DIFFERENCE between them and Nissan. OBTW, GM is simply asleep at the wheel and off chasing butterflies. I would liken this competition (btw Nissan and Tesla) to the Battle of New Orleans. The British were soundly defeated by a ad hoc group of revolutionaries who were motivated spiritually and obtw had superior understanding of the terrain. Tesla Motors has a lean, mean fighting machine that is not burdened by layer upon layer of corp red tape.
    Here are my bold predictions.
    GM will die as they continue to ‘go with what they know as the main product (conventional gas power tech)-2021. Nissan will transform to 80% sales volume for electric tech-2018.
    Just to let you know, my mind is very calculated…here is the first prediction. TESLA will acquire or form an alliance with another transportation company based in California. They make motorcycles…:) This will begin to occur in 2016. This merge/alliance will make the Tesla the most phenomenal vehicle ever built! Design engineers know exactly what I’m talking about…think stability control.
    Easy to make these predictions when you’re bloggin.
    Take care.

    • Great comments, thanks. 😀

    • Bob_Wallace

      I think all car manufacturers are closely tracking EV sales. Once the market builds a bit more and battery prices fall some more they’ll jump in.

      GM already builds a couple of PHEVs and an EV. They can step up production and slow ICEV production in a matter of weeks. I would expect that GM already has a wide range of EV models in their computers. That they are already driving test mules on out of sight test tracks.

      GM, and other car manufacturers are not likely to fail because they won’t produce EVs. They’ll hold back until the market is better established.

  • Lou

    Bingo! Establishing an electric outlet outside your business does not pose the same environmental checks and laws as gas storage. BAM! She almost nailed it. The convience to businesses to establish this benefit for customers will be another driving force. Remember, gas stations don’t make money sellling gas; they make money selling soda’s and chips.

  • Chris_in_Raleigh

    Yes, my wife took the Leaf. 🙂

    Now I volunteer for errands in the evening so I can drive it.

  • Erocker

    I have 2 electric cars in California and the convenience of no time spent doing smog checks is a big deal. The gas station anxiety is also a big reason to own an electric car.

    • we have to start using that “gas station anxiety” line. 😀

      i forget about smog checks, never having lived in a place with them. nice benefit.

      • Tom Moore

        Ha! Try the New Jersey Turnpike for service station anxiety! The lines are unreal on summer weekends. You could be there an hour easily…

  • Ed Dodge

    Is a car with an electric drive train and a gas generator still an electric car? I would argue yes. I would not define an electric car based on being purely battery powered or a perception of being carbon free. Since most electricity comes form coal it is not accurate to assume that battery powered means carbon free anyway, so you should not get hung up on whether a car has a gasoline generator to power the batteries. If the car has an electric motor and drive train it is an electric car.

    The choice to buy an electric car, or any other piece of equipment, is a balance of price and performance. So the real question is whether electric cars can offer the price and performance value sufficient to get buyers to switch from ICE cars.

    I agree with you that electric cars offer excellent performance attributes. Instant torque, excellent handling, high power. I think we are just seeing the beginning of what can be done with electric drive trains. There really is no limit to horsepower or performance. Many of the most powerful and sophisticated machines in the world are electric: freight trains, big ships, drilling rigs, the list goes on. All of these machines use electric motors because of the precise control and phenomenal raw power that electric motors are capable of. Yes they use hydrocarbons to create the electricity, but so does the electric grid.

    Now regarding price, that is where plug in electrics really shine. Electricity is roughly 1/5 the cost of gasoline. That’s twenty cents on the dollar when you can rely on batteries and avoid gas. This is hugely compelling to consumers, plus you can get “free” electricity from solar panels and regenerative braking.

    The price/performance case for electric cars is very compelling without needing to persuade people based on environmental perceptions.

    • “Is a car with an electric drive train and a gas generator still an electric car? I would argue yes.”
      -I completely agree. I’m actually one of a few people in this industry who is rather adamant about using “electric cars” or “electric vehicles” inclusively rather than exclusively. In other words, PHEVs are EVs, imho.

      All the rest: yep. have written a lot on the price stuff as well. here’s one of my favorite pieces:

    • Here in the US, less than 38% of electricity comes from coal, actually. And this is dropping all the time.

      Even with 100% coming from coal, an EV is far cleaner than any ICE car.

      • Ed Dodge

        Fair enough on the coal comment, I should have been more clear. 2/3’s of electric power comes from fossil fuels combined, not just coal.

        • We have to start from where we are. The grid will get cleaner and cleaner over time, and we need to have EV’s to take full advantage of it.

          • Robert Pollock

            Yes, the logic is pitifully clear; Every new electric car reduces our dependency on fossil fuels, eventually we’ll be independent of fossil fuels, allowing that ICE cars will be used only where they’re appropriate. Where and how the electricity is produced is only relevant today, and will be less relevant tomorrow, and soon, irrelevant entirely.

        • JamesWimberley

          Neil has it right. Besides, the expected life of a new car is now over 15 years. You have to assess any car’s carbon footprint over its life. For an ev, the average will correspond to the generating mix seven or so years from now. In addition, the grid will be smarter, so that ev charging can to a considerable extent be matched to daytime peaks in solar output and nighttime peaks in wind output.

          • Robert Pollock

            One big variable is that the technology available to consumers is changing rapidly, and looks like it will continue to do so. Also, almost exclusively, technical changes are improvements. They never go backwards, things only get better.

        • PaulScott58

          It’s also important to note that with EVs, you have the choice to go with renewable energy. There is no choice with ICE. If you have a problem with dirty electricity, you shouldn’t be running your home on it. Either install solar, if you have the roof for it, or sign up for your utilty’s renewable energy program.

          • And ~40% of California EV owners do have rooftop solar panels. Not sure of the % in other regions, but that’s an amazing % even in Cali.

          • Robert Pollock

            I’m learning yet again that the quickest, cheapest way to make you house more energy efficient, is to save it. Driving electric has made both of us (my wife and I) more aware of how we use it. We changed all the light bulbs to LED years ago, with immediate bill reduction of over 35%. W, replaced aging appliances, (our new washing machine uses 1/4 the water and electricity) and are anticipating a powerwall or facsimile this year. We’re adding Solar PV incrementally, the outside lights and gate are now off grid. The yet to be built pool will have it’s own system, because the pool will be insulated from the ground and covered and use a variable speed, brushless DC water pump. A cooling loop of pipes will run under the insulated pool, where the ground is 59F to prevent over heating in summer. Solar hot water heaters will keep it 87F otherwise. 3kw of Solar PV on a pole will run our pool for almost nothing. Our neighbor has a 20 year old pool that costs him $200 month to run, and that’s just the filter, no heating or cooling system.
            My point is that my neighbor would have to pay for and install a lot more equipment to handle the loads on his house.

    • right, i never address the coal comment, thanks to Neil for picking that up.

      as he said, coal is down to ~38%. plus, a lot of people who get EVs also get solar. plus, the whole grid is shifting to renewables. plus, even today, EVs are much greener:

      but i think you already knew all that.

    • mk1313

      This is why I wonder why they don’t alter the electric plug for all electric vehicles to recognise a mobile generator, on a trailer say. The vast majority of trips would thereby be all electric and only those of extended duration through unserviced area’s would need the gas generator, which for infrequent use could simply be rented.

    • Bruce Parmenter

      I disagree, an Electric Vehicle (EV) does not have a chemical fuel burning engine or fuel cell on-board. Its electric drive train runs off electricity that came from the electrical power grid, or an outlet (if the owner has their own electricity source: solar, wind, micro hydro, etc.).

      I am not against plug-in-hybrids, old-school-hybrids, fcvs, or even ice (gasoline, diesel, cng, +more). Like EVs, they each have their performance and cost advantages, and disadvantages.

      But where the energy came from is my main point. An EV is not subject to the whims or speculators on the stock market for its energy costs. The electrical grid is highly regulated to keep costs fair and stable for the consumer and Utility. That stability is a different energy currency that EVs run on. The consumer has the choice of using solar panels on their roof to generate more-benign/renewable electricity.

      Plug-in-hybrids (phev/pih) can partially utilize this advantage, until their chemical-fuel engine/fuel-cell kicks in. If a pih driver only ran in electric-only mode, does that make the pih an EV? … No. It means you are enjoying the electric-mode of your plug-in-hybrid (which is a good thing).

      Is a fuel-cell vehicle (fcv) an EV? … No. Currently, automakers have settled on using hydrogen (h2) fuel cells. The hydrogen is not made from electricity: purifying the water, electrolyzing/separating the hydrogen out of that water, and compressing that h2 to a high pressure into the on-board storage tanks (each step/stage takes energy).

      The above more-benign h2 method is too expensive, when compared to the way Oil companies make h2. h2 is reformed/cooked from natural gas (ch4), and with the fracking that is allowed, ch4 is a cheap fossil/non-renewable chemical-fuel.

      When you drive a chemical fuel burner: ice, an old-school hybrid, or a fcv, those are running off fossil/non-renewable fuels.

      So, if you decided to drive a pih in electric-only mode as much as possible, then take solace that you are doing your part as much as you feel possible, yet you can still have the ability to drive cross-country at a moments notice (reactive-driving ability). Some people have that need, and a pih fits, where an EV may not.

      But an EV fits the needs of most drivers, over 90% of the time in the sunshine states. No one should think one vehicle fits all, that is just not true.

      Something to consider: besides the price of fossil chemical fuels going up and up, there is the amount of pollution in the city cores/centers that have caused regulations/laws in those areas to where there are large fees/fines for exhausting at peak times (EVs are exempt from that). Let’s not play the Oil companies’ EVs pollute as much as ice mistake, I am talking about city-centers where there are just too many tail-pipes pumping exhaust which displaces the clean air to breath.

      In the U.S. we have been very lucky to not have that city-pollution melt-down, like Paris, London, and large cities in Asia have had … (but it is coming …).

      EVs need to be defined by their electrical energy source, and as not burning chemical-fossil fuel. This is for the knowledge of buying public, and for our regulators to know which witch is which.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Great comment. But let me take issue with this one small part….

        “In the U.S. we have been very lucky to not have that city-pollution melt-down, like Paris, London, and large cities in Asia have had .”

        We’ve been there, done that. In the middle of the previous century we had cities with Beijing quality air. Out steel producing cities such as Pittsburgh and Gary had incredibly polluted air. The LA basin had terrible air quality.

        • jeffhre

          As someone who grew up wheezing through LA air in the sixties to often wake up with a sore chest the next morning after participating in sports, I can second that. Pittsburgh was said to have the same air quality that London had a the beginning of the unfettered coal fired industrial revolution – until the late 20th century. An atmosphere residents could not only smell, but see and touch also!

          • Bob_Wallace

            Here, on the West Coast, some of our lumber towns suffered from terrible air pollution from lumber kilns which burned wood waste. I remember listening to an interview with people who had lived in one of our local towns in the 1940s about how it was like living in year round fog but fog that made it hard to breathe.

          • jeffhre

            How were you able to hear that interview? Considering the vast amounts of forests that were removed in the state, in such a short period of time, I think that may me be a difficult thing for me to hear though.

          • Bob_Wallace

            That was a local NPR production. I doubt it played outside the area. It was a conversation with a couple of long time residents about how the city had changed during their lifetimes.

            This was before the massive logging that stripped our mountains of trees. Back then logging was done at a sustainable level, except for old growth redwood. But even the old growth was cut at a much lower annual rate.

            Our major timber company was bought with junk bonds in the 1990s, logging rates zoomed, loggers’ pension fund was raided, assets (trucks, large equipment) was sold off, and the company declared bankruptcy. The bond holders were left holding the bag.

    • jeffhre

      I mainly agree. And yes most electricity in places like WV is from coal. Though, for the rest of the US and Canada it is not true. And as Neil and James have said, it will get even cleaner.

    • Robert Pollock

      The Chevy Spark is a ZEV or Zero Emission Vehicle. No sound, olefactory, or air pollution. Completely different from a hybrid. And just one power system, not two.

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