Technological Revolutions: Part II — Have Electric Vehicle Sales Reached the Tipping Point?

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For Part I of this short series, covering the early evolution and adoption of cars, planes, calculator, computers, TVs, the Internet, and more, see “Technological Revolutions: Part I.”

Gasmobile vs. Electric Vehicle Technology

As a former NASA scientist with an engineering background, I didn’t need to be a rocket scientist to observe that electric vehicles were a much superior technology to internal combustion vehicles. EVs are also the answer to ending the spewing of planet-warming CO2 and toxic gases out of your vehicle while you’re driving. The simplicity and efficiency of a battery and electric motor combination vs. the mixture of an extremely complex internal combustion engine, fuel, cooling, exhaust, and emission control system was a no brainer. Electric vehicles quickly became feasible the moment battery technology reached a tipping point.

For me, the tipping points came in 2014 when Nissan was offering Nissan LEAF leases for a payment of $200/month. I figured that I would save more on gas per month than I would pay on the LEAF lease. The LEAF was a wonderful car for local driving but didn’t meet our needs for our commute each year from our winter home in Utah to our summer home in northern Wisconsin. My second EV tipping point came in 2019 when we figured out a way to finance a long-range Tesla Model 3. The 300+ mile range and fabulous Tesla Supercharger network made long-distance driving only slightly more trouble than driving a gasmobile.

Has Global Production & Sales of EVs Reached the Tipping Point?

2021 global electric vehicle sales were 6,750,000, but this was only 8.3% of the total market. See the discussion below to see EV sales progress for 2022 and prognosis for 2023.

First country where EV uptake reached dominance (~90%): Norway

In October 2021, Norway’s plugin vehicle sales reached 90% of total automobile sales. In 2016, 24% of the vehicles sold in Norway had a plug. Let’s call 25% of sales the tipping point. EV sales in Norway went from ~25% to ~90% in 6 years. EV sales in Norway have been steady lately, but the percent of pure battery electrics (BEVs) has recently increased to 77.5%. Government incentives for EVs will be reduced for plug-in hybrids, so by the time countries reach EV uptake of 90%, most of those cars will be pure BEVs.

How soon will this happen in the rest of the world?

2nd country with EV uptake beyond the tipping point (well on the way to dominance): Sweden

October 2022 saw Sweden’s plugin electric vehicle share reach ~60 % of the auto market.

3rd country with EV uptake beyond the tipping point: Ireland

September 2022 saw Ireland with ~37% of all new vehicle registrations being plugin vehicle registrations. 29.31% were full electrics.

4th country with EV uptake beyond the tipping point: China

September 2022 plugin vehicles in China hit 35% market share, with 26% fully electric (this is especially significant since more EVs are sold in China than in the whole rest of the world).

5th country with EV uptake beyond tipping point: Germany

January–September 2022 new car sales: 32% have a plug and 19% are BEVs.

Country with EV uptake approaching the tipping point: France 

September 2022 plugin vehicles now at 24% (14.8% BEV)

Country with EV uptake approaching the tipping point: UK

October 2022 plugin vehicles now at 21% (16% BEV).

EV uptake approaching the tipping point: Europe

September 2022 plugin vehicle share of the overall European auto market was 24% (16% full electrics/BEVs). The tipping point could be reached by the end of 2022.

EV uptake tipping point not reached: California

September 2022 plugin vehicle share of the auto market was 18% (mostly full electrics/BEVs). Note: The GDP of California would be 8th in the world if the state was a country.

EV uptake tipping point not reached: US

July– September 2022, only 6% of US auto sales were fully electric. Since EV uptake in the US is totally dominated by fully electric Teslas, the total plugin market is almost the same as fully electric.

Rivian electric truck. Lehi, Utah. October 28, 2022. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Since California is the US EV leader by far with uptake of 18%, one would expect much lower uptake in other states. However, since we returned to Utah for the winter in October of this year, it seems that Teslas in the northern Utah metro area have been multiplying like rabbits. Today, I saw 12 Teslas here in Saint George, Utah. One still sees an occasional Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt.  However, recently, a gorgeous tan Rivian pickup truck drove by my house, later in the day I saw the blue one (see above) in American Fork on my daily bike ride, and even later a Ford Mustang Mach-E. Bottom line: EVs from multiple companies are beginning to appear in the wild even in a US state which is not California.

EV Uptake Tipping Point Not Reached: Global

In September 2022, plugins represented 17% share of the overall global auto market.

(Note: If we use 10% as the tipping point instead of 30% then all the major European countries, China, and California have all exceeded it already.)

If past is prologue, EV uptake in Sweden, Ireland, China, and Germany should reach dominance in 2028 or before. Most legacy automobile companies could design and set up mass production of EV automobiles in 5 years or less if they are willing. The problem is getting enough batteries. Tesla has been the company most proactive in obtaining/building batteries for its EVs. This has made possible the massive uptake in production of the Model 3 and Model Y. However, production of the Tesla Semi and Cybertruck have been delayed because of battery shortages. Shortage of batteries likely accounts for the anemic production of EVs by many other companies, except for the Chinese company BYD which makes its own batteries.

Europe plans to ban all combustion engine cars by 2035. If EV uptake for the rest of Europe follows the lead of Norway, it should easily be able to meet the deadline. China should also be able to ban all combustion engine cars by 2035.

California also plans to ban all combustion engine cars by 2035. Based on current progress it will harder than for Europe but should be possible as well. It will be tough for the rest of the US to move so quickly.

Automobile and battery companies are making massive EV investments in the US and other countries. With the global uptake of electric vehicles doubling from 8.3% to 17% from 2021 to 2022. If it doubles again in 2023, we will have already reached the 30% tipping point for the whole world. Now may be the point where companies realize that if they don’t switch to EVs as fast as possible, they will end up declaring bankruptcy just like Kodak, Nokia, and Blackberry.

Figure 3: 40 stall Tesla Supercharger. Baker, California. February 21, 2022. Photo by Fritz Hasler.

Besides a huge ramp up of EV battery production, a huge ramp up of EV chargers is also needed if EVs are to become dominant. For local travel, everyone with a garage, carport, or driveway will have adequate access to charging. For multi-unit housing EV chargers will need to be installed in their parking stalls. On-street chargers will have to be built out for the rest of EV drivers. For long-distance travel, only Tesla has a system of Superchargers that make cross-country travel trouble free. Tesla is also making massive expansion of its Supercharger system to keep up with its massive uptake in vehicle production and sales. Figure 3 shows the Tesla Supercharger in Baker, California, with forty 250 kW stalls all occupied. 100-stall Superchargers are planned for the near future. This is the situation with California new car EV sales only at 17%. Can you imagine how many EV charging stalls will be needed if not only new EV sales exceeds 90%, but the total fleet of automobiles exceeds 90%. I can picture multiple 100 stall EV chargers at every exit off the freeway. In urban areas with expensive land prices, this could be a real problem.

Your comments and corrections are welcome in the comments section.

 


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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler has 123 posts and counting. See all posts by Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler