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When Will Electric Vehicles Achieve Mass Consumer Adoption?

One of the most hotly debated conversations on various electric vehicle websites is around when electric vehicles (EVs) will achieve mass adoption.

The directional answer to this question is pretty simple, predicting the actual timing of crossing the chasm into mainstream consumer sales is much more difficult.

In this short post, I will address the first part of the equation – what will drive mass adoption of EVs? The answer is simple:

When electric vehicles are better and more convenient than gas-powered cars.

That’s it.

Color TVs achieved mass adoption when they became cost competitive with black & white TVs, but fundamentally they provided a better experience than black & white TVs. A few other products that achieved mass adoption once the price/value equation was acceptable to consumers, include:

  • Refrigerators versus ice boxes
  • Smartphones versus regular cell phones
  • CDs versus cassette tapes and vinyl records
  • Laptops versus desktop computers
  • Cars versus horses
  • Washing machines versus washboards

Remember when a 50 inch TV cost $5,000, then $2,500, then $1,000? Well now you can pick one up for around $300.

Large screen TVs

Price is obviously the key to any new product achieving mass adoption, but the other key element is that the new product is simply better than the existing products.

Cost is a obviously a huge hurdle with electric vehicles, the bigger problem with current electric vehicles is that they simply aren’t as good as gas/diesel-powered vehicles.

What? Heresy you say.

Yes, as an EV owner (Tesla Model S) I love my electric car – as do most owners of EVs. We love the torque and acceleration. We love the lack of carbon emissions. We love the never having to go to gas stations and the convenience of just charging at home at night when electricity rates are low. We love to tout the lower total cost of ownership (TCO).

But we are all in. We are the early adopters. We are by definition the consumers willing to accept trade offs – whether it be in cost, vehicle range or time to “refuel”/recharge.

So when will EVs achieve mass adoption and explode in sales? When they are both cost competitive and are better than or have distinctive, highly-valued advantages over internal combustion engine vehicles.

This means that EVs must:

  • Be cost competitive.
  • Have a range that is equal or better than ICE vehicles (e.g., 500 miles of range).
  • Be able to be refueled/recharged in a similar time frame as ICE vehicles.
  • Have adequate public charging infrastructure in key locations – especially on interstate highway routes, at apartment/condominium complexes and urban centers where residences lack convenient home charging.
  • Be able to do things that ICE vehicles cannot do, such as store energy from solar and wind power and help manage peak electricity demand through vehicle to grid (V2G) capabilities.

Currently, unless you are an “all in” EV advocate, electric vehicles are simply viewed as being inferior to gas-powered vehicles. To be accepted by the masses, EVs must be viewed as being superior and not having multiple inconveniences compared to gas cars.

This doesn’t mean that EVs have to be better in every attribute than ICE vehicles, but they do have to be better in the majority of attributes and provide superior value in other areas that make up for any shortcomings. Electric vehicles will eventually blow the doors off of ICE vehicles, but for the next 10 years or so, the average auto consumer will simply view EVs as being inferior to ICE vehicles in too many key categories.

In future articles I will explore these key factors listed above in more detail and provide a forecast of when they will meet or exceed the performance or convenience of ICE vehicles.

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Loren McDonald


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