The electric vehicle (EV) market is starting to look better after a disappointing start. Growth in the EV market has been slower over the past few years than many would have expected. Low gas prices and the failure of science to produce a hoped-for, and at one time generally expected, break-through in battery technology, have resulted in a lower rate of EV adoption through the early part of this decade than what was expected by many towards the end of the last decade.
But there are indications that growth may soon return to the EV market. Crude oil prices are bumping up against $50 per barrel, from a low of less than $30 earlier this year. On Monday, the Wall Street Journal reported as likely a drop of 5% in U.S. gasoline demand by 2035 as a result of EV adoption, with a possible drop of as much as 20% in demand if EV’s gain a 35% market share.
That EV’s may be positioned to gain a significant share of the vehicle market by 2035 is no longer considered far-fetched. General Motors, Tesla, Nissan, Hundai and Voltwagen are all working on (and in the case of General Motors and Tesla have already introduced) extended range (200+ miles) EV’s. Ford has said it would invest $4.5 billion over the next four years to develop 12 new electric cars and hybrids, and Volvo has set a goal of producing one million electric vehicles by 2025.
Sometimes lost in the commercial buzz is the continuing political interest of governments around the world in pushing EV technology. For example, Germany has mandated that all new cars registered in the country will have to be emissions-free by the year 2030. The German government and automakers have jointly agreed to spend $1.4 billion on incentives to boost electric car sales. German automakers collectively hope to sell 500,000 EV’s by 2020. Norway is following suit as well, working on legislation to outright ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars by 2025.
And the science of batteries continues to advance. I spent this past week at the IMLB 2017 meeting in Chicago, the leading biannual academic conference on lithium-ion battery technology in the world. Although the conference reaffirmed my suspicion that no breakthrough in battery technology of the kind we imagined during the last decade is imminent, the number of brilliant minds working to solve the huge number of obstacles to better battery performance is inspiring and justifies tremendous confidence in the future of the technology.
The EV market has never been about if, but when. The EV revolution got off to a slow start. But EV’s with longer ranges at more affordable prices, tighter air-pollution regulations, the continuing political will to confront climate change, and the steady march of battery science all point to a better and rapidly accelerating EV market in the future.