Electric Vehicle Adoption Curve — Taking Everything into Consideration

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A reader who predicts a slow electric vehicles adoption curve writes:

Americans are addicted to not only to oil but also to driving. Most Americans see automobiles as freedom to do whatever, whenever they like. They do not like to be restricted by anything, including their vehicles. Early adopters are slightly different and are probably wealthy enough to have a bunch of cars to drive on any given day. So it is more a fashion statement or “I am green” statement.

At $26,220 for a Leaf and $21065 for 5 dr Focus with automatic trans; the cost penalty is $5,155. Assume 12,000 miles driving per year. Focus get 31 mpg composite = 387 gallons gas at $4 per gallon = $1,548 for gas and the Leaf gets 100 miles on 23 kWh which takes $2.53 per charge ($0.11 per kWh) x 120 charges = $303 for electricity. Net savings per year is $1,244 and divide that into $5,155 = 4.14 year payback. Marginal but add into that the fact that you can’t drive it if you have to go more than 100 miles. Logical answer for today’s mainstream customer is no thank you.

To which I reply:

This is very good stuff, but here are a couple of points:

Total cost of ownership over years of oil changes, tune-ups, valve jobs, radiator leaks, exhaust systems, smog checks, etc. on ICEs is replaced by a car with almost no moving parts, no explosions going on in it, almost no maintenance expense and better peace of mind.

Until we have a good, ubiquitous fast-charging solution (decades), most EVs will be sold into multi-car families who can always take the ICE if they want to go on a road trip. How many such families like that are there? Tens of millions.

Costs will be coming down as technology improves and scale is achieved.

In addition to making the statement that “I am green,” the driver is making the statement “I am patriotic” (by not driving my country into debt to foreign enemies, not to mention wars that are costly in terms of both dollars and lives). As a marketing guy, I only hope I get the chance to tell this story; I promise you, I’ll have a field day with it.

Reader response:

You are so right. Maintenance is an issue if you decide to own your car for a long, long time. But with a 4-year payback, the Focus will probably get by on just oil changes and some light maintenance. Leaf offers a 3-year $349/month lease with $1,999 down. So maybe a 3-year payback is necessary.

Fast charging is not a solution to anything. Fast chargers are very expensive and will never pay back ever. With electricity at 10 cents per kWh, they just don’t make sense…take a 100A at 240 VAC – 24kW, now you charge for 30 minutes = you use 12kWh times 10 cents = $1.20. Not much there for anyone.

Will EV costs come down? Maybe but very, very slowly. The big OEM’s do not want them. PERIOD! If GM was not lead by Obama’s appointees, the Volt would be facing the same issues EV1 did. Nothing has changed. Gas at $4 per gallon is still too cheap for all the bad things that come out of it.

Americans are wasteful and stupid. Nobody cares about today much less tomorrow. Washington DC is made up of crooks and lawyers who believe you are not guilty of anything until you are caught and dragged into court and finally found guilty. That is why they are so dishonest and untrustworthy. With a whopping 15% approval rating, what else can we think. Do you really think any of them care about a US Energy Policy? Obama’s speech last week was mostly BS. Every President has said the same thing over the last 50 years and nothing has changed to reduce our increasing demand for oil. Sure we are concerned about our National Security but what has anybody done? Nothing. Washington is waiting for us the hit a wall or fall off some cliff before they have no choice but to act. But it will be too late at that point.

The US census found 25M households with 3 or more cars!

My Response:

I agree with most of this.

Re: fast-charging, the business model has yet to be worked out. I have to think that profitable businesses will emerge in this space a few decades from now when we have tens of millions of EVs on the roads (on the way to hundreds of millions). It does create an interesting problem, since, unlike the distribution of gas and diesel, most of the fuel for EVs is delivered at home, with more available at the workplace, shopping malls, etc.

You’re correct that the OEMs don’t want EVs, but their backs are up against the wall, driven by competitors — all of which are vigorously developing EV platforms — for a customer base that they (and I) believe will be there. In addition to Nissan and GM, you have Ford, Mitsubishi, BMW, Honda, Toyota — not to mention the start-ups — all running hard to sell into what they feel will be a robust consumer market. As you pointed out, there are 25 million households that represent “low-hanging fruit,” and I believe a very big chunk of those are going to want a car like the LEAF.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.