What Is Different This Time?

1902 Studebaker Electric Vehicle

Some people claim that electric vehicles failed about 10 years ago in California, because people don’t really want them.

I would contest that. Electric vehicles were withdrawn and destroyed by their manufacturers as soon as they were legally able to do so, but during the time they were offered, the manufacturers were able to sell or lease every one that they made–this despite very little advertising, and many dealers and automakers trying to talk consumers out of them. And they still had waiting lists. Would they have been able to attract enough consumers to get volumes to where prices were acceptable if they had been trying We do not have enough data to know for sure. But I do not think automakers dropping a product they did not want to sell in the first place can be counted as a “failure”. Especially given how happy the owners of those cars still are!

However, it also can not be counted as a success. So let us say, for the sake of argument, that plug-in vehicles have been a failure in the past. Has anything changed in the last decade that will make things different this time I think quite a few things have, for example:

  1. 9/11 increased US security concerns
  2. the economy fell in the past few years
  3. petroleum prices have gone up in the past few years
  4. there is new unrest in the Middle East, increasing concerns about petroleum prices
  5. there was a big oil spill in the Gulf to remind us of some of the environmental hazards
  6. carbon emissions have become a hot topic
  7. the electric grid is cleaner than it used to be
  8. hybrid electric vehicles have increased acceptance of electricity for motive power
  9. plug-in electric vehicle makers have agreed on a standard charging plug
  10. Tesla showed that an electric vehicle can be as fast and good-looking as you care to make it; turning plug-ins from cars you should drive to cars you want to drive
  11. battery density has increased steadily over the past 10 years; better yet, prices have steadily decreased
  12. Any new (electric vehicles aren’t new, of course just unfamiliar to most current consumers) technology takes off slowly as few want to take a risk at first. The new ubiquity of the internet and social networks helps interested people get connected and find out more information
  13. automakers are now building plug-in vehicles because they see a market, not because they have to

Tesla Roadster

What do you think will plug-in electric vehicles do better this time? More important: what can we do to help them succeed?


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