We have other, much longer, much more detailed articles coming about this, and I have to recommend those over this one. But there’s also something useful about a short, simple message.
While editing Nicolas Zart’s review of the Kia Niro EV, one line jumped out at me and triggered this story.
“From Oct 2014 (first Soul EV launch) to Jan 2019, a little less than four years, the range has advanced from 93 miles to 239 miles (2.6×), and the battery energy density increased by +25%, while battery weight increased only 1.6x (640 lb to 1008 lb),” Steven Kosowski, Kia’s Long Range Strategy & Planning Manager, said.
This is something that those of us who have been following electric cars for years understand well, and understand is key to electric vehicles being disruptive tech, but we also get a little complacent to the progress and what is around the corner.
Side note: The old “boiling frog” metaphor comes to mind, but in a positive way this time. However, as a brief side note, that metaphor is a little screwed up. The original studies (and all subsequent studies) regarding frogs in boiling water found that frogs with brains jumped out of the water when it got too hot, whereas frogs that had their brains removed (don’t ask) did not jump out of the boiling water and thus died (or were murdered, depending on how you look at it). In any case, the point as it relates to the famous metaphor should be that, as long as you use your brain, you should be able to notice dangerous changes to your atmosphere even if they come about slowly. … But back to electric vehicle disruption for now.
If you have a 71 mile BMW i3 (like we do), or a 84 mile Nissan LEAF, or a 62 mile Mitsubishi i-MiEV, you think about range quite a bit. You may not be plagued with range anxiety — that’s actually quite rare for people who actually own electric cars — but you plan a lot and are sure to charge often. Seeing range for the new versions of the i3, LEAF, and similar electric cars jump to 110 miles, 130 miles, 150 miles, etc. is a clear indicator the technology is improving fast and becoming much more acceptable for mainstream buyers.
Well, you of course don’t have to own an electric car to see that — you just have to pay attention to EV news and use your brain.
But we have a funny quirk regarding change. We can see such progress happening, yet we have a hard time recognizing what it’s going to mean tomorrow, or next year, or in three years.
As I’ve noted in presentations in India, the UAE, Europe, the US, and Canada, we get accustomed to “slow” growth of a new technology up to a certain inflection point, and then we are surprised when that technology hits that inflection point and market adoption shoots upward. Here’s a simple visual if you don’t want to watch those full presentations:
As you can see, up to around 5–10% market adoption, growth typically looks pretty good but not disruptive. However, at around 5–10% market adoption, a certain mix of tech benefits and affordability arrive and the adoption shoots up. Word of mouth is a huge factor as well. (Again, watch one of my presentations for more on that.)
In the case of electric vehicles, the growth in sales we’ve been seeing may seem strong to some people while it seems weak to others (glass half full/empty kind of stuff). The more important point is that it’s going to jump on a trampoline soon, or shoot off like a rocket — choose your favorite metaphor.
The Kia Soul EV’s progress from 93 miles to 239 miles (2.6×) from 2014 to 2019 is just one example of many of how EVs are becoming more competitive. In the next 5 years, energy density and battery costs will continue to improve. EVs like the Kia Soul EV, Kia Niro EV, Hyundai Kona EV, and Tesla Model 3* can watch their driving range improve while costs remain the same or can watch their costs drop while range remains the same — or there can be some combo of improvements in range and price. Either way, the vehicles get more and more competitive.
At some point, these cars and others will have as much range as any sane human can want and also a lower total cost of ownership compared to any gas cars in their classes. (Well, the Model 3 is already at that point in the class it competes in and some other EVs are arguably there in certain national or regional markets.) The next step of the journey is: as much range as any sane human could want will be combined with a lower upfront price than a comparable gasmobile as well as lower operational costs. At that point, you basically will have to be a brainless frog to not switch to an EV, and any automakers not working on a 100% electric future will have to be even more out of touch with the world around them.
This may still seem like it’s far off, considering that, for example, the base price of a Hyundai Kona is $19,990 and the price of a Hyundai Kona EV before incentives is $36,450, but also note that the higher-trim versions of the gasoline Kona start at $25,550 and $27,550 and the Kona EV is packed with goodies. More importantly, note that the Tesla Model 3 smokes the pants off of every car in its class in several key metrics. The Model Y, when it comes out, will similarly crush the gasoline/diesel competition in its small/midsize luxury crossover class.
The electric car that is arguably kickstarting the inflection point in auto market disruption is already here, and the sales show it. The only thing is that we need more EV models in a bunch of vehicle classes to reach that point in order to get to the key 5–10% marker and beyond.
Well, this article was supposed to be short, but the simple point is that as EV/battery technology marches on, as energy density and $/kWh improve, we get closer and closer to that technological crossover, that point where you have to be in a truly odd case to choose a gasoline or diesel car over an electric one. Instead of electric cars having numerous benefits but being more expensive, they will have numerous benefits but be cheaper.
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The last point some of the more pessimistic among us might want to bring up is that battery supply will limit rapid adoption. It’s possible, but consider this: Automakers understand what’s coming. Auto execs have to be beyond stupid to not see that electric vehicles are the future. Any automakers eager to grow their market share will do whatever they can to lead on electric vehicles and have the battery supply they need to sell millions of cars a year. With the automakers fighting to grow rather than lose market share, battery producers and their suppliers will get their production capacities up to desired levels. With strong demand (which is already appearing), the batteries will come, because no industry players will want to be left out of this growth boom.
*Note: If you recently ordered a Tesla Model 3, Model S, or Model X — before February 2 — but you didn’t use a referral code for 6 months of free Supercharging (or 9 months if you didn’t test drive the car), then you can still use my referral code — tomasz7234 — or someone else’s if the car has not yet been delivered.
Just send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org (or buildmy3EMEA@tesla.com if you’re in Europe) with the word “Referral” in the subject line. Then put your name, contact information, reservation number (starts with RN), and the referral code you’d like to use in the body of the email. (Thanks to Paul for discovering that.)