Electric Cars: There Are Still Few, But the Future is Hopeful

Electric Vehicles Total Adoption

About ten years ago, electric vehicles (EVs) emerged from the midst of obscurity, a technology of the future with the potential to change everything. However, electric vehicles have yet to dominate the market. In fact, the global electric car stock currently responds with only 0.2 percent of the total number of passenger light-duty vehicles.

Despite this, it is anticipated that the market for electric cars will grow well into the Twenty-First Century, and ultimately the alternative vehicle may take over the market.

The Advent of Electric Cars

Electric cars emerged not during the most recent turn-of-the-century, but around the year 1900. As automobiles became more viable as a means of transport in the late 1800s, there were a few potential alternatives: steam, gasoline, or electric cars.

Steam seemed the absolute energy source; it had long been relied upon for factories and trains. However, steam vehicles suffered from large startup times. Interestingly, gasoline-powered cars circa 1900 were also plagued with numerous faults. They were noisy, hard to operate, and released excessive exhaust.

Electric cars lacked these issues, so they gained popularity. Soon enough, electric vehicles became popular in urban areas, as residents found them ideal for short trips around the city. It is important to realize, however, that during this time, the roads outside major cities were often unsuitable for automobile travel, so urban popularity would be expected for any reliable type of vehicle.

Electric Cars in the 1900s

Even Henry Ford considered options for a low-cost electric car. However, Ford’s innovations in combustible engine automobiles led to the demise of the electric car. With the creation of the Model T in 1908, followed by better system of connective roads in the United States and the discovery of crude oil in Texas, by 1920, the electric car was a technological relic.

Electric Cars – The Twenty-First Century

However, electric cars didn’t simply vanish throughout the Twentieth Century. In 1966, Congress introduced the earliest bills that recommended electric vehicles as a means of air pollution reduction, and during the 70s, due to the oil crisis and a burgeoning environmental movement, interest in electric cars reemerged in the minds and hearts of consumers and producers. In fact, some prototype models were made during this time, but automobiles continued to be gasoline powered internal combustion engines.

In 1997, Toyota unveiled the Prius. The world’s first commercially mass-produced and marketed hybrid electric car, it sold nearly 18,000 units during its first production year. Some all-electric cars were introduced throughout the next several years, but most of them are available for lease only, and many were crushed after a few years.

It wasn’t until 2008 that electric vehicles—and even hybrid vehicles—seemed to gain a foothold in the market. During this year, Tesla released the Tesla Roadster, with the high base price of $98,950. The next year, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated $2 billion for development of electric vehicle batteries and related technologies, and President Obama announced a new gas-mileage policy that will require automakers to meet a minimum fuel-efficiency standard of 35.5 mpg by 2016.

Why Aren’t We All Driving Electric Cars?

Despite these efforts, only a fraction of a percent of the entire light-duty vehicle stock is occupied by electric vehicles—about 2 million in total. This includes battery electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and fuel cell electric cars. Norway dominates the market share at 29 percent, while China is the largest electric car market, accounting for more than 40 percent sold worldwide.

China is also the leader in the electrification of other transport modes, with over 200 million electric two-wheelers, 3-4 million low speed electric vehicles, and more than 300,000 electric buses. The amount of electric cars sold in China is over double that sold in the United States, which was the largest market for EVs just back in 2015.

Electric Vehicle China

The reasoning for the dwindling American interest in electric vehicles is technology, but not with alternative fuel sources. Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been responsible for a rise in natural gas and oil production. Therefore, gasoline is cheaper, and there is far less of a need for automobiles that use less gas than there was in 2008.

However, while electric vehicle quantities currently are limited, the world is becoming far more open to adopting them. As EVs have grown in usage, so have public charging ports. Furthermore, while EVs were impractical for traversing significant distances just several years ago, today there are numerous automobiles based entirely off electrical power that can travel over 100 miles on a single charge.

However, the force behind the adoption of EVs is driven by research, development, deployment, and regulation. Announced in December 2015 and enforced in November 2016, the Paris Agreement set the objectives of limiting the increase of the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and pursing efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Energy generation is the prime source of greenhouse gas emissions, but the use of gasoline by automobiles wages a toll as well. Therefore, increasing production of EVs is crucial for meeting the goals of the Paris Accord.

Clearly set objectives like these are likely to encourage increased production levels of EVs. With additional developments like the mayor of Paris calling for electric cars to displace gas-powered ones in her city, it is surely possible for electric vehicles to take a major chunk of the market by the middle of this century. As new developments emerge, standards help guide the process.

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