In a series of articles for The Wall Street Journal, writer Michael Ramsey found that excitement over the expected electric vehicles boom exceeds the potential of those vehicles to gain near-term traction in the United States. Despite finding positive user experience in an article profiling frequent Plugincars.com contributer Tom Moloughney, Ramsey sees many reasons for skepticism about whether EVs will actually be successful in the U.S.
The list plug-in drawbacks cited in the articles should be familiar to most fans of the vehicles. (They have a limited range, they're expensive, they'll only make sense when gas hits $8 a gallon, etc.)
But the sum of these arguments doesn't necessarily clash with what most realistic EV enthusiasts and their counterparts within the auto industry have been saying about plug-in adoption for years: "If you build them, the market will eventually come."
In "Bumpy Road for Electric Cars," Ramsey cites a Johnson Controls study that found that battery electric vehicles make financial sense for just 3 percent of drivers. That number may or may not factor in the tens of millions of people who own multiple cars and can use each as needed in their daily lives, but let's assume it's correct.
The short-term goal for the electric vehicles industry will be getting cars into the hands of the drivers for whom it makes real fiscal and lifestyle sense to own an plug-in—as well as the many others who are willing to pay a little more for a car that they think is, in one way or another, "better."
Over the next ten years, if plug-in carmakers were able to attract just half of the more than 6 million drivers who would be financially suited to driving electric vehicles, they would average 300,000 sales per year over that period. Not only would those numbers be beyond most advocates' wildest dreams for the early EV market, they would cause battery prices to fall significantly—to levels where it would make financial sense for millions or even tens of millions of more people to drive electric.
That isn't to suggest that such a rosy scenario is likely, but it underscores what seems to be a misunderstanding on the part of many as to what "success" will mean for the infant electric vehicles market.
The most important task for plug-in adoption isn't getting to 20 percent of vehicle sales in the United States—it's getting from 0 to 1 percent, from 1 to 2 percent, and then from 2 to 4 percent. As those milestones are reached, the cost of EVs will drop significantly, changing all of the cost considerations involved with owning one.
So will plug-ins be such an overnight success that they put gas stations out of business within a decade? No. But that doesn't mean that the long-term outlook for them is necessarily "bumpy"—just a little slower than perhaps the hype might lead some people to believe.