What Confluence Has Brought EVs To The Mainstream?

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The iconic “diffusion of innovations” theory has been resurrected lately to explain how transportation electrification has gone from a futuristic idea to a practical consumer choice. Often, pundits wrangle over what confluence of elements will persuade consumers to shift their preference from internal combustion engines (ICEs) to electric vehicles (EVs).

But it’s not only consumers who have undergone (or are still undergoing, depending on to whom you talk) a mindset switch about EVs. It’s also been automakers, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), governments, major utility providers, and others who have moved in their thinking to at least a lukewarm and somewhat welcoming embrace of EVs.

What happened in a matter of a few years to stimulate such a reframing of what transportation should look like?

Innovation over time develops and spreads among people in a specific social system. The rate at which an innovation diffuses is influenced by the social system in which the innovation is adopted. Participants can be classified broadly into innovators, early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards.

But it took a confluence of ideas, events, people, and investment to create the EV ecosystem that is increasingly evident around the world. Look at the rise in EV adoption in just a few years: 0.7% adoption in 2020, to 1.7% in 2021, and then the amazing jump of 4.7% of all vehicles sold in 2022.

Here are some of the factors that led up to the decarbonization of transportation, which is a critical component of efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in support of climate mitigation goals.

Governments realized fiscal benefits: The regulatory frameworks, government incentives, commercial actors, and resulting business models in place to support EV charging vary widely both across and within jurisdictions. The EV ecosystem necessary to support mass adoption was accelerated by governments that were innovators as they announced incentives like subsidies and tax breaks while also supporting additional R&D.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order declaring that up to half of all new cars sold by 2030 must be electric, and the Commercial Clean Energy Credit has caused particular angst in European markets. Then again, UK Transport Secretary and Business Secretary announced the end of the sale of new petrol and diesel cars in the UK by 2030, which should put the country on course to be the fastest G7 country to decarbonize cars and vans. China wants EVs to make up 40% of new cars sold by 2030.

According to the International Energy Association, EV ownership will balloon to about 125 million by 2030, spurred by policies that encourage drivers, fleets, and municipalities to purchase clean running cars.

Automakers acquiesce to the inevitability of EVs: Automakers have set ambitious targets around electrifying their fleets in the coming decade for a variety of reasons.

In 2015, the US EPA charged Volkswagen with installing software in its diesel cars that allowed it to cheat on emissions tests. The Volkswagen Group was eventually forced to pay some $30 billion in fines and damages, and one of the positive end results was the emergence of Electrify America. The company itself went through policy, cultural, and technology shifts, and half of Volkswagen’s sales are expected to be battery electric vehicles by 2030.

General Motors has seen the EV light and has vowed to avoid opportunist EV pricing. Stellantis announced in May it was building a new battery factory in Indiana. The Ford F-150 Lightning can’t be ordered right now, as it’s too popular to keep up with orders. Most other automakers (except the Japanese) have come to the realization that mainstream buyers are shifting to EVs more quickly than expected.

More companies investing in chargers than ever: Charging infrastructure has taken recent center stage, accentuated by vacillating gas and diesel prices. While their actual charging requirements may be largely satisfied with home charging, drivers still look to public charging networks to provide reassurance that charging will be available to them should they need to access it. Additionally, survey data from the US Department of Energy’s Workplace Charging Challenge indicates employees of companies that provide charging infrastructure are 20 times more likely to purchase an EV.

Recognizing the revenue potential, companies and entrepreneurs are investing in EV charging stations. With the US federal government dedicating $5 billion in funding over the next 5 years to build a national network of EV charging stations, the availability of turnkey charging franchises, and a generally high return on investment, EV charging companies are surging forward.

The electric vehicle charging station market was valued at $5.86 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $53.25 billion by 2027.

Corporations began to invest in all-electric fleets: Electrification of vehicle fleets, particularly in countries with increasing shares of renewable electricity supply, represents a key pathway toward low carbon mobility. Firms that lease and manage fleets are advocating for the conversion to EVs faster than anyone expected. Corporate clients are chasing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) goals to meet announced sustainability objectives, and a huge component of change can be addressed through green vehicle fleets.

A Ceres analysis details a roadmap for vehicle manufacturers aiming to remain competitive in the changing auto and truck industry and also provides concrete proof of robust demand for zero emission vehicles. Corporations are conscious of delivery costs and have begun to segue toward electrified commercial last mile delivery. Of course, accessible charging infrastructure and a variety of EVs to match function and aesthetics are issues that continue to arise when corporations discuss their transition to green vehicle fleets.

Media outlets foregrounded EVs as high news: EVs have made for good headlines recently. Media messages have highlighting high upfront costs and range anxiety while, conversely, celebrating legacy automakers’ catalog shifts to EVs alongside rising EV consumer adoption numbers.

(The stories I’ve covered recently range from top EV charging companies to greenwashing, from patterns of automotive inequity to job creation due to battery manufacturing.)

Battery safety concerns led to new approaches: Unlike the batteries in ICEs, which primarily serve to start the engine and run auxiliaries like the air conditioning or audio system, the battery in an EV runs everything. The main concern is the combustion risk of a battery, and this has to do with the organic liquid electrolyte. It is made of compounds that are volatile, corrosive, and flammable.

Quality control concerns emerged from OEMs last year, spurring new, proactive approaches to battery safety which is arising from the feedback by early adopters. Electric Vehicles will be lot safer overall as a result of these discussions, which will speed up adoption.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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