US sales of electric vehicles are expected to increase significantly this decade, however, by the end of 2030 EVs will still comprise only a tiny percentage of vehicles in operation (VIO) and the number of internal combustion engine vehicles (ICE) will actually increase by 20 million. These are the findings of new EVAdoption analysis.
To complete the analysis required identifying or forecasting several data points and models, including:
- Forecasting EV (BEV and PHEV) sales out to 2030.
- Calculating the total number of EVs in operation, including modeling the percent of EVs that would go out of operation each year.
- Researching historical and forecasting the future number of total vehicle sales, the number of vehicles in operation, and number that go out of operation each year.
- And then bringing it all together in a model of the total number of ICE and electric vehicles in operation by the end of 2030.
Following are the step-by-step inputs and data:
2030 EV Sales and Share of New Vehicle Sales
After 11 years (starting in 2010) of the modern/contemporary EV period, combined US sales of EVs (BEV and PHEV) reached 318,798 in 2020. Sales, especially early in 2020, were greatly affected by the Coronavirus stay at home orders and people losing their jobs. As a result, sales were flat compared to 2019, but EVs increased their share of new vehicle sales slightly to 2.2% because overall sales of new ICE vehicles declined significantly. Sales of EVs have basically been flat the last three years and have hovered at +/- the 2% of total light passenger vehicle sales.
While the future powertrain of light passenger vehicles is clearly electric, we have a very long way to go and many hurdles to reach 100 percent of new vehicle sales being electric (either just BEV or BEV and PHEV). So far in 2021 we’ve seen chip shortages, battery recalls, factory and production delays, supply chain issues, and more get in the way of the supply of EVs for the US market. Not to mention OEMs continuing to prioritize their available EV production for Europe due to the EU emissions mandate and higher demand.
And while many of the legacy automakers – along with several states – have announced plans or “aspirations” to end production of ICE vehicles or ban their sale completely, the reality is we may not see a federal ban of ICE sales ever – or perhaps not before 2040.
Despite big plans and promises by many automakers, today 27 of 37 major automakers do not offer a single BEV for sale in the US. And 26 automakers offer either zero or only one EV (BEV or PHEV) for sale in the US.
On the positive side, however, there are many new and compelling EVs that will be available in the coming years. In fact, we should see a doubling of the number of available models from 2021 to 2025.
In my latest sales forecast for combined sales of BEVs and PHEVs in the US, I have sales climbing to 4.7 million in 2030 for an estimated sales share of 29.5%. There are, however, literally dozens of variables involved that could see the actual sales share reach perhaps as high as 40%-50% or only the low 20s. But I believe the near ~30% share is quite realistic based on my forecast of sales volume for ~240 EV models that will be available by the end of 2030.
Adding up the annual sales beginning from 2010 gets us to approximately 26.2 million cumulative electric vehicles sold, but factoring in an increasing rate of EVs going out of operation each year, we arrive at ~25.19 million EVs in operation. This is an increase of 14X from the roughly 1.8 million at the end of 2020.
How Many Vehicles Go In and Out of Operation?
How many vehicles go out of operation each year in the US? According to the Experian Automotive Quarterly Briefings, over the last 3 years the number of vehicles going out of operation has actually declined to 12.4 million in 2020 from 13.2 million in 2018. On a percentage of total vehicles in operation, the number of out of operation vehicles has also declined to 4.41% from 4.79%.
This trend is likely due to several factors including that cars are simply lasting longer than they used to, people are holding on to them longer, used car sales continues to increase, newer cars are costing more and are less affordable, and of course in 2020 we had the impact of the Coronavirus and job losses likely also leading to households holding on to cars longer. And if a decent percent of white collar workers continue to work from home at least a few days per week, many of them may decide to hold on to their car longer because of fewer days commuting and lower overall miles travelled each year.
In the past few years the net increase in vehicles in operation has declined (chart below), mostly due to a decline in new vehicle sales. I expect, however, the increase in VIO for 2021 to return to above 1% and 3+ million net additional vehicles.
Part of what will continue to feed an increase in the overall number of vehicles in operation is longevity. The average age of vehicles in operation has increased 40.5% since 1995 from 8.4 years to 11.8 years in 2019. With gas-powered cars and trucks accounting for a majority of new vehicles being purchased likely until around 2032-2035, it means that a high percentage of gas-powered vehicles purchased in 2021 will still be on the road in 2033.
Now as my friend and EV journalist extraordinaire John Voelcker pointed out to me, new cars tend to be driven many more miles per year than older ones – especially in multi-vehicle households. And when you combine that with newer cars becoming increasingly more fuel efficient, without building the model, it is possible that the 20 million more and 300 million in total gas-powered VIO in 2030 might actually pollute less and release fewer carbon emissions than the 280 million in operation at the end of 2020.
Combining all of these factors and data points produces what the likely number of total vehicles will be in operation in 2030 and broken down by EV and ICE vehicles. And the result isn’t pretty for electric vehicle advocates and policymakers.
As impressive as the EV sales growth reaching ~30% of new vehicle sales is, the percentage of cumulative electric vehicles in operation in 2030 would still be tiny and a drop in the bucket at approximately 8%. Said another way, in 2030 only 8 out of 100 vehicles in operation will be electric.
What Does This Mean for Transportation Policy Decisions?
The need to transition off of gas- and diesel-powered fuels is clear if we want to reduce pollution, carbon omissions, and lessen the impact of cars on climate change. In the US transportation is estimated to account for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector.
Even if the transition to 100% new vehicles being electric (or hydrogen powered) happens more quickly than my forecast, it will likely still take another 30 years to reach 98% of vehicles in operation not being powered for the internal combustion engine. In a forecast from 2020, I pegged that it would likely take until 2052-2058 to reach 98% of all vehicles in operation being electric.
Increasing the adoption and sale of electric vehicles more quickly can get us to 98%-100% non-gas-powered vehicles sooner, but math tells us that getting rid of 300 million gas vehicles that last 12 years or more is a huge burden that can’t be sped up naturally.
Increased investment in incentives (something I don’t believe actually has significant impact on sales), building out EV charging infrastructure, instituting emissions mandates (like the EU), and outright bans of ICE vehicles as is proposed or law in several states, are all important elements in the transition away from fossil fuel powered vehicles.
But my analysis reveals if we really want to speed up the transition to or near 100% electric vehicles in operation we actually must have a greater focus on removing inefficient, polluting, greenhouse gas emitting fossil-fuel powered vehicles.
There is no simple solution to this monumental challenge of removing 300 million vehicles from our roads. Almost any approach to taking existing gas and older less efficient vehicles out of operation is going to be highly unpopular with many Americans, extremely costly, and put a higher-level of burden on lower- and middle- income households that often can only afford older used vehicles.
With that said here are a few ideas to get the conversation going about how to speed up the transition:
- Put teeth into the gas guzzler tax and have it apply to SUVs, crossovers, pickups, and vans as I outlined in this article from 2019: Trucks, SUVs and CUVs Inclusion in the Gas Guzzler Tax Is 20 Years Overdue. All new non-commercial vehicles that are below a certain MPG or other efficiency standard should have a significant tax that increases for each MPG below the threshold.
- Institute a “trade-in and cash for guzzlers “program that would provide an instant rebate to owners of specified older in-efficient gas models that would be applied towards the purchase or lease of a new or used zero- or low-emissions vehicle.
- Establish community college and technical training programs especially in disadvantaged communities for the conversion of older gas-powered vehicles into either plug-in hybrid or fully battery electric vehicles.
- Provide incentives that actually discourage the driving and need for 4-wheeled vehicles and build out first- and last-mile micro-transit solutions that enable easier use of public transportation and other mobility options for households in suburbs and other locations without convenient access to mass transit. These programs should encourage many people to move to become either zero or one-vehicle households.
- Instead of the current federal EV tax credit, reformulate it based on exchanging older gas- or diesel-powered less efficient vehicles and toward the purchase or lease of a new or used electric or hybrid vehicle. A huge problem with the current EV tax credit is that not only are the credits going mostly to upper income households that don’t really need it to buy or lease an EV, most are probably replacing either another EV, a hybrid, or better than average fuel-efficient vehicle. For example, in 2018 Tesla revealed that the top 5 most traded in vehicles were the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius, Nissan Leaf, and BMW 3 Series. The Accord and Civic are two of the most efficient ICE vehicles on the market, the Prius is a 50 MPG hybrid, and the LEAF an electric car. Even the BMW 3 Series gets up to 26 city / 36 highway miles per gallon. The tax credit (or rebate) needs to be designed and weighted to incentivize people to replace older gas guzzling, pollution spouting vehicles with low- or zero-emission vehicles. A risk of course is that the price of used and new fuel efficient vehicles might increase, reducing the net affective value of the trade-in dollars.
What else? Let me know in the comments what type of programs could more quickly remove older gas guzzlers from our roads?