How Fast Could The EV Market Grow?

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Originally published on Energy Post.
By Adam Whitmore

Various policy driven scenarios show electric vehicles (EVs) gaining market share over the next few decades but the question is by how much. According to Adam Whitmore, independent energy advisor, there are reasons to assume that annual sales of EVs will account for 7-22% of the vehicle stock by 2030. By 2050 they will account for a majority of light vehicles on the road.

I recently argued that BP’s projections showing almost no take-up of plug-in vehicles [1] by 2035 was unrealistic in view of several convergent trends. There is increasing pressure to reduce CO2 emissions, there is large and growing concern about urban air quality, and electric vehicles are likely to prove attractive to consumers in many respects. In line with these drivers, sales are growing very quickly and many new models are coming on line, while battery technology is improving rapidly, with costs falling sharply and energy density rising.

However while these factors suggest that electric vehicles will gain substantial market share it does not say how much how soon [2]. So how fast might the market for plug-in vehicles grow if policy drivers are strong and matched by favourable economics? Here I consider how quickly electric vehicles could gain market share on that sort of optimistic view.

Market share gains for new technologies

The transition to electric vehicles is in its early stages, so extrapolating historical trends offers only limited guidance. Similarly, highly detailed modelling may not offer robust insights, because too many assumptions are required. Instead it seems appropriate to look at some broad indicators.

A good starting point is to look at adoption other new technologies. The chart below shows the rates of penetration of new technologies in the USA over the 20th and early 21stcenturies. It shows variants on a characteristic s-curve shape, with most technologies reaching eventual penetrations of 80-100%. The typical time to reach about 80% penetration following the first 1% or so of deployment (about where plug-in vehicles are now) is around 20-30 years, although some modern highly scalable technologies have become nearly ubiquitous faster than this, and other technologies have taken as long as fifty years or so to reach high penetration.

For example, cars themselves experienced rapid growth between around 1910 and 1930, reaching 60% of households, before experiencing hiatus and decline during the Great Depression and Second World War, before growing steadily again through the to the second half of the 20th Century.

However these timings are for the USA, and, even in an increasingly homogenous world, global adoption may take a little longer.


The chart mainly shows technologies that fulfil a new function, rather than those that replace existing technologies, as plug-in vehicles do. However replacement technologies can also gain market share quickly. Digital cameras replaced film almost completely over a period of around 15-20 years, and DVDs replaced VHS in less than 10 years. In these cases the new technology brought clear advantages. For plug-in vehicles a combination of some advantages plus regulatory drivers could play a similar role.

Modelling the transition

EVs are rather different from many of these cases in that there is a large existing capital stock which is expensive to replace – a new car is much more costly than a new camera. This limits the rate of change of the stock. I have therefore applied the sorts of timescales shown above to a rough and ready model representing the potential rate at which new vehicles could gain market share, rather than changes to the stock. The model uses a standard s-curve (logistic function). Changes in the stock are then calculated considering stock turnover.

I have developed three scenarios representing respectively strong policy drivers, more moderate policy drivers, and a delayed transition representing either weaker policy or greater practical or economic obstacles. The strong policy case fits better with the historic data, but this may not be a reliable marker as the history is so short and there are a number of particular circumstances at work.

I have assumed plug-in vehicles will eventually account for 80%-90% of the market for light vehicles, with markets for internal combustion vehicles likely to remain where consumers seek low capital costs or they need long range with poor infrastructure. There will doubtless also be small niches for car enthusiasts seeking experience of the internal combustion engine, just as there are for taking photographs on film. However these are likely to play only a small role.

The rate at which the stock of vehicles is replaced depends on how long vehicles last. I have assumed this to be 15 years, although there is obviously a distribution around this. If this were to lengthen further it would slow the change in the stock, or could be shortened by incentives to scrap older vehicles. The life of new electric vehicles is unproven (although battery guarantees of typically around 8 years are available), but in any case I have assumed buyers replace their battery packs, or replace their EVs with other EVs rather than returning to internal combustion engines.

Growth of the vehicle fleet leads to a faster proportional changeover of the stock, assuming plug-in vehicles gain the same share of the larger market, because current sales are a greater proportion of the historic stock. I’ve here assumed a 2.5% p.a. global growth rate for car sales [3].

The results of this analysis are shown in the chart. Annual sales of EVs reach 20-60% of the market by 2030, expected to be over 100 million vehicles p.a. by then. They by then account for around 7-22% of the vehicle stock, or around 100-330 million vehicles. By 2050 electric vehicles account for a majority of light vehicles on the roads in all the scenarios.

Global market share of plug-in light vehicles


So do these projections make sense, and what might stop them?

Cost competitiveness. Analysis by a variety of commentators show EVs becoming economically competitive in the early to mid-2020s, varying between geographies depending on factors such as driving patterns and petrol prices. This timing corresponds with the period when vehicles begin to gain market share much more rapidly in the above model, especially in the first two cases, which appears consistent.

China. A large proportion of vehicle sales in the coming years will be in developing countries, especially China. Concerns around urban air quality, development of the indigenous automotive industry, infrastructure development, and oil imports look likely to tend to favour EVs in China. Driving patterns based around lots of shorter distance urban driving are also compatible with EVs. For these reasons government policy in China strongly favours EVs. Again this seems consistent.

Growth rate. The compound annual growth rate for annual sales over the period to 2030 ranges from 25% to 33%, both well below current growth rates of around 60% p.a.

Scale-up. The need to produce tens of millions of additional EVs by 2030 is a formidable challenge. However the international car industry increased production by about 35 million units p.a. over the two decades between the 1990s and 2015, and added 20 million units p.a. in the last decade alone [4]. Replacing models with electric equivalents at this scale does not seem like an insuperable barrier, at least in the lower two scenarios. However the challenges of achieving this for the stronger policy scenario are formidable, and policy drivers would need to be correspondingly strong to overcome these barriers.

Battery production would also need to be scaled up by orders of magnitude. There don’t appear to be any fundamental barriers to supply of the vast quantities of lithium that would be needed, but it may take time to develop the infrastructure.

The need to ramp up production of both new models and batteries may act to slow growth, at least for a while and especially in the strong policy case, but do not seem likely to act as a fundamental longer term constraint.

Grid constraints. EVs are likely to require reinforcement of grids, but again this does not look like a major barrier given the timescales involved.

Other projections

These projections show much faster growth than analysis by Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), which suggests 35% market share by 2045 [5]. However the reasons that BNEF sees growth being so restricted are unclear, and there appear to be few examples where the penetration of a new technology has been so slow. It seems a more likely estimate for a share of the stock by that date, though even then looks to be towards the low end of the range.

Goldman Sachs estimates 22% of the market being EVs by 2025 [6]. This includes conventional hybrids, with the share of plug-in vehicles being only about a third of this, closer to the moderate case. However it would not seem to require a fundamental change to the market’s development for a greater share of hybrids to be plug-in, so Goldman’s analysis seems at least potentially consistent with the strong regulation case shown here.

Other scenarios show something close to the moderate case shown here. The IEA 450 scenario and Statoil’s reform scenario both show EV sales reaching around 30% of the market by 2030 [7].

Outturn will doubtless differ from these projections. But they do highlight the extent to which policy might succeed in stimulating a major transition in car markets in the next two or three decades.

[1] All estimates here refer to pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids, which get much or all of their energy from externally generated electricity. Depending on driving patterns, a PHEV may typically get 70% of its energy from external electricity. I exclude conventional hybrids, which are essentially a variant of internal combustion engines with increased efficiency, in that they still get all their energy from petrol.

[2] Some have made the case that on pure resource cost grounds internal combustion engine vehicles will continue to predominate. See This is potentially true in the absence of any policy drivers due to emissions or other factors, but this seems unrealistic.

[3] For comparison, BP assume a doubling of the vehicle fleet by 2035, about a 3.5% p.a. growth rate (see there 2035 outlook).




[7] See Lost in transition, Carbon tracker p. 102 for plots of these projections

Adam Whitmore is an independent advisor on energy economics and climate change policy, with over 25 years’ experience of the energy sector. He was previously Chief Advisor, Energy and Climate Change Policy for one of the world’s 100 largest companies. He is a member of the supervisory board of the British Institute of Energy Economics, and also gives guest lectures at several leading universities. This article was first published on his website On Climate Change Policy.

Reprinted with permission.

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55 thoughts on “How Fast Could The EV Market Grow?

  • Nice article Adam. It is good to see someone explain where they get their numbers from. Unlike some other projections we see.

  • Nice article. I’ll bet anything it’ll be the most aggressive curve. A couple of points I would add in favor of that:

    1. Don’t underestimate the “Model 3 effect”. When your friends sit in your Model 3 it’ll almost certainly be the first EV they’ve ever been inside, and it’ll be the first car they’ve ever seen that’s decked-out with a 15″ display and a HUD, that runs 0-60 in ~5s while being silent, that’s Level 3 autonomous, that never needs oil changes, brake changes, or gas, and that gets the ICE equivalent of 90MPG. The EV “mind barrier” will fall instantly and they’ll suddenly see the future, because it’ll be cooler than anything they’ve ever seen before. The Model 3 will be to EVs what the iPhone was to smartphones in 2007.

    2. There very likely won’t need to be 100 million new cars per year in 2030. The self-driving taxi industry will almost certainly reduce car ownership, perhaps even drastically. If you can summon a car instantly, take it anywhere, even across the country, for a fraction of what even Uber costs today, then drastically fewer people will need to own cars. Thus, 100 million EVs won’t be needed to achieve 100% market penetration — it’ll be much less than that, which means EVs will eat into the market even more quickly.

    • Yes, and self driving taxi companies will do the math… and will ALL buy EVs.

      • Two taxi companies in your city; one is all electric, the other has tailpipes. Which companies app do you put on your phone? They need to put that in their math.

        • Which gets it’s cars restricted from the city center, airport, and anywhere congestion is.

  • I try to place myself in the shoes of a car buyer in 2025 and compare her/his thoughts with my own these days.

    If I visit a Nissan dealer, see the leaf with its inadequate range (I drive 20K-30k m/y) and price penalty, not knowing of government incentives, I will not buy it.

    But batteries have been declining 14% a year for the last two decades. There is no reason for this decline to slow in the next two decades. The prices for internal combustion powertrains are rising due to regulations.

    A Leaf with adequate battery capacity (200 mile) is expected to reach price parity around 2021 with a comparable ICE car. But it won’t stop there. BEV will continue to become more affordable. ICEV will continue to rise in price.

    In 2025 the price penalty will be on the ICE car. And it will have inferior driving performance, noise and future value. Its disadvantages over a BEV are comparable with the LEAF’s handicap today, and growing each year. How long will it take until the market share of that BEV is as small as the LEAF’s market share today?

    • Exactly. In 2025 you’ll be able to buy a corolla equivalent for $20k unsubsidiezed. With 200 mi range and fast charging. Trucks will be slower to hit economic parity.

      Also, There will be a several year supply-constrained artificial high price period though. Remember PV and the silicon shortage? Batteries and the entire supply chain will be in short supply through much of the 2020s. The scale up is massive.

      • high-demand + supply-constrained => high-margins
        high-margins => competitors attracted to jump in
        more competitors => lower prices
        lower prices => increased demand
        increased demand => supply-constrained
        high-demand + supply-constrained => high-margins
        high-margins => competitors attracted to jump in
        more competitors => lower prices
        🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

        • That has been exactly the history of RAM prices for the last 25 years.

        • Exactly!!! Boom and bust cycles. That’s how disruptive technologies grow.

        • If you are refering to ev’s, then don’t forget the less demand for oil, lower prices, new production doesn’t get brought on line, production declines, more ev’s, prices still low, oil driller finds different job. Drilling rig falls into disrepair. Getting harder to find a gas station that still sells gasoline….

      • If you can buy a Corolla equivalent for $20k in 2025, then the discussion will be all over.
        My guess is that you will be able to buy a Corolla like EV for thst money before 2025. I think this could happen by ’22-’23. This is just a guess. But we can see the handwriting on the wall.
        Here is what I expect. As we get closer to Tesla’s release of it’s much awaited Torolla/Tivic, the fear level will continue to rise among the DinoICE companies. Against all odds, some of them will figure it out:

        Carlos Ghosn: Man, it looks like this foot draggin’ thing is not going to work for much longer.

        Mary Barra: I know, man. We held them off as long as we could.

        Matthias Muller: Volkswagen INVENTED EVs. We are the CLEANEST of the CLEAN car companies. Because integrity is EVERYTHING to us.

        Mark Fields: What are you guys talking about?

        Bob Lutz: If we can just improve the efficiency of the carburetor, we will have Musk by the balls. And add glasspacks.

        • A $20k Corolla will cost you about the same out of pocket for payments, fuel and oil changes as a $25k EV (no subsidies).

          (100% financing at 4.5% with a 6 year payoff. 13,000 miles per year. 12c/kWh electricity and $3/gallon fuel.)

          I suspect at least one company will have announced a 200 mile range EV selling for about $25k by 2020. It might take a year or two to bring it to market due to battery shortages.

        • 🙂 On so many levels!
          Marchionne: Buone Sera! Hey, I’m hungry, let’s get some wood fired pizza. I’ll drive in the new Dodge Ram, supermegapowerstrokehemi!

    • “In 2025 the price penalty will be on the ICE car. And it will have inferior driving performance, noise and future value.”
      Exactly! Favorable policy can help to move things faster at the beginning. When the tipping point happens it will be fast and policy will no longer be of much consequence. China, Europe, Norway… model 3, as you say… it’s a done deal now.

  • This is a *great* analysis, Adam. So which factor do you think the binding restraint on growth is? I’m guessing it’s the ability to build car factories.

    • Every thing else being equal, you can build anything in a car factory, and model changes happen often. The motors are not limiting, so what remains is the battery, although it will take us a few years to see that as a limit, in my opinion.

      • Batteries already. There is no reason why Tesla should wait so long for production of Model 3. They need to ramp up the Gigafactory for serious amounts of batteries first – which Musk has stated several times

    • Batteries.

  • Why not like color TV’s? Why did we need color when we could see Cronkit’s tears just fine? That switch was 15 years. Doesn’t that suggest we could do EV’s in 30 years? If we consider Tesla the first real EV and the start of the ‘changeover’ we are only a decade in so far.
    Why can’t we do this in 20 years? Why can’t I have an X?

    • TVs didn’t cost as much as some people make in a year. It was easier to find the money to buy a color TV and move the old B&W off to the bedroom/wherever.

      Lots of people are going to hang on to their paid off ICEV rather than spending thousands for a new EV. It will be a lot cheaper to buy gas than make monthly payments.

      • Lots of people are going to hang on to their paid off ICEV rather than spending thousands for a new EV. It will be a lot cheaper to buy gas than make monthly payments. — Bob Wallance

        That is why I still have 2 ice vehicles. At some point gas and maintenance prices will be higher then getting a new vehicle and that new vehicle will be some kind of EV.

      • Well yes, but there will come a tipping point where the vast majority of new cars will be EVs.

        More than 60% of all households have more than one car.

        Once one of those cars is an EV, that will be the car of choice. For a decade or more we may be in a situation where over a third of the cars in use are gasmobiles, but less than 10% of the miles are driven by those cars.

    • Not to worry this is a very reasonable prediction, meaning it will turn out to be conservative.
      “Goldman Sachs estimates 22% of the market being EVs by 2025 [6]. This includes conventional hybrids, with the share of plug-in vehicles being only about a third of this, closer to the moderate case.”
      So Goldman Sachs estimates about 7% EVs by 2025 …and they are bankers. Conservative.

      How much has the EV market changed between 2006 and 2016 = today? Anybody really think EVs will be at 10% or less of vehicles sold annually in 2025? No way. Reservations for model 3s already point to that being wrong and you ain’t seen the 2020 market yet. Strong growth curve could be correct out to 2025, but I’d wager the slope from 2025 will be greater …as is actually the case for several of the historical S curves on the other graph …and that graph is for “percent of households”, so it would correspond to Adam Whitmore’s solid green line, not the solid blue one. I think market sales will come up faster, but his fifteen year transition time seems reasonable for trade out of ICEVs, as Bob Wallace is saying, …IF market and fuel prices stay stable. …of course neither one will do that.

      I wouldn’t be surprised to see a repeat of the historical adoption curve for automobiles. We’ll see.

  • It will not be like the introduction of cellphones, what was a new technology.
    It will be like cellphones getting replaced by smartphones that cost less.

  • Good post.

    A lot depends on policy staying supportive. In solar and wind generation, we have seen policy gyrations and reversals that have slowed the transition. How likely is it that this negative pattern will be repeated for evs?

    IMHO, not very. Renewable generation came up against alert and hostile interests, both fossil fuel producers and fossil and nuclear generators. In rich countries, total demand for electricity is stagnant, so it has been a zero-sum game. In EVs, the losing incumbents are oil companies – but they don’t believe the revolution is happening, and now it’s too late to stop it. The carmakers are on a spectrum from full commitment to token support, but none of them will hit the mattresses in defence of ICEs. The powerful electric utilities are all in favour. City governments are moving rapudly towards ev support, driven by concerns about local air and noise pollution.

    All told, it’s a much more favourable political environment than the one faced by wind and solar – which have still won through.

    • Good points.

      Also, solar & wind are almost purely about cost for buyers. EVs also offer better driving quality/experience. Smartphones are more expensive than previous cell phones, but they took over because they’re better.

      • There is also much more of an emotive aspect, linked to image, status and fashion. Look at the astonishing premia in the price of iPhones over functionally nearly identical Android smartphones. Cars are definitely emotive purchases.

        • Yep, agreed. And also very visible. Can’t easily “hide” that you still have a gasmobile.

    • Yes policy will be critical. But with EU deaths due to pollution being 3x USA and higher than either India or China; I expect to start seeing cities charge a lot to have a ICE in the city center. There was a time when spittoons were all over every bar and eatery. But when ICE get the same rep, then …

      • All private cars will be banned in the innermost part of Oslo, Norway from next year I think (thanx to The Greens in the local council). With an additional “environmental zone” outside of that, for zero or low emission vehicles only

      • High fuel prices in EU in addition to pollution, are driving EV adoption.
        In China pollution is already a driver, but lower cost transport will also be a big driver for both China and India.
        Take a look at adoption of electric-bikes and electric-motorcycles. …as cost of lithium batteries drops significantly in the next 5 years…

      • “But with EU deaths due to pollution being 3x USA and higher than either
        India or China; I expect to start seeing cities charge a lot to have a
        ICE in the city center.”

        You have of course hard data to support your claims. Or is it a typical result of not understanding relative and absolute data?

        Hint: The WHO data do not support your nonsensical claims.

    • Astute comment as per usual. Policy helping now, but tide of economic advantage is what will drive rapid transition, just as it is now doing more and more for Wind and Solar PV. Sales reservations for model 3 says this tide has also begun to turn for EVs. About 2020 and beyond policy will be of little concern and I love your points about utilities and pollution problems being drivers for pro-EV policies for now. Spot on!
      EV transition will be like LED transition, only a few nutballs will bother to speak against it. Another transition to better solid state technology.

      • EV transition will be like LED transition, only a few nutballs will bother to speak against it. Another transition to better solid state technology. — Mike Shurtleff

        The fight back against the killing off incandescent bulbs had nothing to do with LED’s but instead the hatred of fluorescent light bulbs. My home has largely gone from incandescents to LED completely skipping fluorescent bulbs.

        • The right-wing resistance to CFLs was a real nutball movement.

          Grumpy old white men shaking their fists at progress…..

          • Grumpy old white men shaking their fists at progress….. — Bob Wallace

            The issue was the fact that many people didn’t like the idea of being told they couldn’t buy light bulbs any more and would have to pay allot more for an infer product. Fluorescent bulbs (CFC) put out a very harsh light that most people find very unappealing.

            This is a case where the government got lucky because white LED’s hits the market and created a usable replacement for standard white bulbs.

          • Oh, bull. The economics for CFLs were excellent.

          • Oh, bull. The economics for CFLs were excellent. — Bob Wallace

            It wasn’t just the economics although I don’t think the economics were that great with CFL’s. The issue has been the very harsh light CFL’s produce something very few people like inside their homes. They are fine for work but most people prefer warmer color temperature over the colder color temperature of CFL’s for their home.

          • The first CFLs had a slight blue tint. They are now available in a variety of color temperatures including the yellowish tint of incandescent bulbs.

            Before LEDs became affordable one could purchase a CFL for less than $1 which meant a very short payback time and very large long term savings.

          • Look I don’t like CFL’s. They didn’t work in my can lights very well. Burned out quickly. …but the economics were clearly much better. You could solve the can light problem AND at the time this law was an issue I was already experimenting with LED lights. The future of lighting was very clear, even back then.

            Same as it is for Wind, Solar PV, Storage, and EVs now. Some idiots will continue to think coal is cheaper. They are not able to look at data on cost trends and see what is happening. They are not able to look current, up-to-date prices for different sources of electricity and understand a new technology might be better now. Same problem.

            Same thing is going to happen. Every GOP candidate, including Trump, is a fossil fuel puppet and epsilon semi-moron on the issue of renewable energy. Obviously.

          • Bob is correct. Economics for CFLs were clearly much better. LED bulbs were already on the market and going in for city street lights at very significant savings. Government was NOT lucky, they were just acknowledging a change.

            Some people were apposed? Some people are stupid.
            Fight for the right to make a stupid choice? Not gunna be one of my issues. You?

            You’re newer to this sight. We’ve been there. Think about it.

          • Yes, exactly.

  • I am really curious why this site so.much rely on michael felton’s figure.first, it is only for new product modalities.seond, car is exactly showing slowest pace. Third ev is not a new modality, but belongs to the same car. Moreover, I was expecting 2012 to be the year of ev, no it not happened. So , 2025 probably about 4-5 percent evs.

    • No, exponential growth in sales, not linear.

    • In 2010, when the Nissan Leaf was launched, the price of batteries was above $500/kWh.
      You need 60kWh for a car with a desirable range. But you can’t put $30,000 worth of batteries in a what is essentially a $20,000 car. So we all got “range anxiety”.

      Battery prices are the key for BEV adoption. When battery price plus electric powertrain price is less than the internal combustion powertrain price, things are going to change. This is already the case in the top segment where Tesla Model S is competing with MB S-class and BMW 7-series. Around 2021 this is expected for the Corolla class.

  • Uhh, what will be the effect on the price of oil and the price of gas when more and more of the worlds cars become electric? Something like 50% of every barrel of oil is made into gasoline, so what will happen when that percentage dramatically drops?

    • Good question. The answer depends in the supply curve for oil, as well as the demand. Peak Oil is more like a plateau, but the cheap oil (epitomised by the Ghawwar field in Saudi Arabia) is in steep decline. It’s been replaced by high-cost oil from offshore fields, tar sands, and fracking. The market price has to cover the cost of production of the marginal barrel. Price and volume must drop together. It should be quite gradual overall, but there could be waves of bankruptcies of the higher – cost producers.

      • Yes thank gods. The current right wing norwegian government wants to open up new offshore drilling fields in the Lofoten archipelago up north, a World Heritage Site. But when the oil price dropped dramatically, all that was put on hold, none will invest there

      • …and fracking in USA has been dramatically slowed down.
        …and oil from tar sands production in Canada has been dramatically slowed down.

        A lot of our oil now comes from more expensive sources: deep ocean, fracking, and tar sands. If high cost of production cannot be paid for then this stops and supply drops. Prices now close to $50/barrel again.

        Globally 60% of oil is used for light truck and car transportation. Most of that demand will go away by 2050, per conservative plot above. Many large oil investments have 10 and 15 year horizons. Risky to invest in expensive long term oil production now.

        We’ve already been seeing oil price instability as predicted by peak oil types. I’d expect to see more.

        Middle East is still a powder keg. Why invest billions in keeping it on an even keel when we could spend that money on Wind, Solar PV, and EVs? The game is changing.

        • You are so right. The amout we spent on the Iraq war will buy you crazy amounts of RE, grid upgrades, and batteries.

    • Kinda what is happening today. As the supply increases over demand the price will fall. When the price gets low enough the most expense producers start to go bankrupt and less and less money is available for new wells. As some of those wells get shutdown the over supply will disappear and the supply will balance out and the price will return to a point where the remaining supplier still make some kind of profit. Repeat over and over again.

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