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


For the first part of this short series, covering the early evolution and adoption of cars, planes, calculators, computers, televisions, the Internet, and more, see “Technological Revolutions: Part One”.

Gasmobile against electric vehicle technology

As a former NASA scientist with an engineering background, I didn’t have to be a rocket scientist to observe that electric vehicles were a far superior technology to internal combustion vehicles. Electric vehicles are also the solution to ending the release of CO2 and planet-warming toxic gases out of your vehicle while you drive. The simplicity and efficiency of a battery and electric motor combination versus the hugely complex mix of an internal combustion engine, fuel, cooling, exhaust and emissions control system was a evidence. Electric vehicles quickly became feasible as battery technology reached a tipping point.

For me, the tipping points came in 2014 when Nissan offered Nissan LEAF leases for a payment of $200/month. I figured 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 it didn’t meet our needs for our daily commute between our winter home in Utah and our summer home in northern Wisconsin. My second EV tipping point came in 2019 when we found a way to fund a long-range Tesla Model 3. The 300+ mile range and the fabulous network of Tesla Superchargers made long distance driving slightly more difficult than driving a gasmobile.

Have global electric vehicle production and sales reached the tipping point?

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

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

In October 2021, sales of plug-in vehicles in Norway reached 90% of total car sales. In 2016, 24% of vehicles sold in Norway had a socket. Let’s call 25% of sales the tipping point. EV sales in Norway have grown from ~25% to ~90% in 6 years. Sales of electric vehicles in Norway have been stable lately, but the percentage of pure battery electricity (BEV) has recently increased to 77.5%. Government incentives for EVs will be reduced for plug-in hybrids, so when countries reach a 90% EV adoption rate, most of those cars will be pure BEVs.

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

2nd country with EV adoption past the tipping point (on track for dominance): Sweden

October 2022 saw the share of plug-in electric vehicles in Sweden reach ~60% of the automotive market.

3rd country with EV adoption past the tipping point: Ireland

September 2022 saw Ireland with ~37% of all new vehicle registrations being plug-in vehicle registrations. 29.31% were fully electric.

4th country with EV adoption past the tipping point: China

September 2022 plug-in vehicles in China hit 35% market share, with 26% all-electric (this is all the more important as more electric vehicles are sold in China than in the rest of the world).

5th country with EV adoption past tipping point: Germany

New car sales from January to September 2022: 32% have an outlet and 19% are BEVs.

Country where EV adoption is approaching tipping point: France

September 2022 Plug-in Vehicles Now On 24% (14.8% BEV)

Countries where EV adoption is approaching tipping point: UK

October 2022 Plug-in Vehicles Now On 21% (16% BEV).

EV adoption nears tipping point: Europe

The share of September 2022 plug-in vehicles in the overall European automotive market was 24% (16% all-electric/BEV). The tipping point could be reached at the end of 2022.

Electric Vehicle Adoption Tipping Point Not Reached: California

The September 2022 plug-in vehicle share in the automotive market was 18% (mainly electrical appliances / BEV). Note: California’s GDP would be 8e in the world if the state were a country.

Electric vehicle uptake tipping point not reached: United States

From July to September 2022, only 6% of auto sales in the United States were fully electric. Since EV adoption in the US is completely dominated by all-electric Teslas, the total plug-in market is almost the same as the all-electric market.

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

Given that California is by far the US leader in electric vehicles with 18% adoption, one would expect much lower adoption in other states. However, since we returned to Utah for the winter in October of this year, it seems that the Teslas in the northern Utah metro area are multiplying like rabbits. Today I saw 12 Teslas here in Saint George, Utah. You still occasionally see a Nissan Leaf or a Chevy Volt. However, recently a beautiful beige Rivian van drove past my house, later that day I saw the blue one (seen above) in American Fork on my daily bike ride, and later even a Ford Mustang Mach-E. Conclusion: electric vehicles from several companies are starting to appear in the wild, even in a US state that is not California.

Electric Vehicle Usage Tipping Point Not Reached: Global

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

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

If the past is any prologue, EV adoption in Sweden, Ireland, China and Germany is expected to reach dominance in 2028 or earlier. Most mainstream automakers could design and implement mass production of electric automobiles in 5 years or less if they choose. The problem is having enough batteries. Tesla has been the most proactive company in obtaining/building batteries for its electric vehicles. This made mass production adoption of the Model 3 and Model Y possible. However, production of the Tesla Semi and Cybertruck were delayed due to battery shortages. The battery shortage likely explains the anemic production of electric vehicles by many other companies, with the exception of China’s BYD, which makes its own batteries.

Europe plans to ban all combustion engine cars by 2035. If EV adoption in the rest of Europe follows Norway’s lead, 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, this will be more difficult than for Europe, but it should also be possible. It will be difficult for the rest of the United States to act so quickly.

Automobile and battery manufacturers are investing heavily in electric vehicles in the United States and other countries. Global adoption 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 tipping point of 30% for the whole world. This may be the time when companies realize that if they don’t switch to electric vehicles as quickly as possible, they will eventually declare bankruptcy, just like Kodak, Nokia and Blackberry.

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

Along with a huge ramp-up in EV battery production, a huge ramp-up in EV chargers is also needed if EVs are to become dominant. For local travel, anyone with a garage, carport or driveway will have adequate access to charging. For multi-unit dwellings, EV chargers will need to be installed in their parking spaces. Street chargers will need to be built for the rest of the EV drivers. For long-distance travel, only Tesla has a supercharger system that makes cross-country travel hassle-free. Tesla is also making a massive expansion of its Supercharger system to keep up with its mass adoption in vehicle production and sales. Figure 3 shows the Tesla Supercharger in Baker, California with forty 250 kW stalls all occupied. 100-seat superchargers are planned for the near future. That’s the situation with new EV sales in California down just 17%. Can you imagine how many electric vehicle charging stations will be needed if not only are sales of new electric vehicles over 90%, but the total vehicle fleet over 90%. I can imagine several 100 EV chargers at each freeway exit. In urban areas where land prices are high, this could be a real problem.

Your comments and corrections are welcome in the comments section.




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