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Tam Hunt: Are Electric Vehicles Already Halfway to Market Dominance?

Electric vehicles have been all the rage in the last few years, but those who have studied EVs and their history know that this isn’t the first go-round at the rodeo for this “new” technology. In fact, EVs were the most popular type of vehicle at the dawn of the vehicle era. In 1899, more EVs were sold than gasoline-powered cars. Albeit, the numbers were small (about 1,500 EVs were sold in that year), but nonetheless, EVs were the dominant technology for at least a decade. And then Mr. Henry Ford came along with his Model T and ensured the ascendancy of petroleum-powered cars for the next century.

There were a number of fits and starts in the EV industry, every couple of decades, but at no point were EVs anywhere near as dominant as they were at the dawn of the transportation revolution. Most adults living now are aware of GM’s EV1 and the tawdry history of that vehicle in the 1990s. There was even a movie made about it, Who Killed the Electric Car?

It seems, however, that this latest phase in the development of EVs is likely to be more than a blip in automotive history. EVs have come on strong in the last three years, with dozens of EV designs either on the market today or soon to be. And sales are picking up quickly, albeit from a very modest starting point.

Norway is leading the world in terms of EV sales. In November, EV market share reached a staggering 12 percent. California has reached about 1.2 percent of all cars sold and comprises about one-third of U.S. EV sales.

In terms of the U.S. as a whole, we are fast approaching 1 percent of all sales coming from EVs (pure battery electrics, BEVs and plug-in hybrid electrics, PHEVs, but excluding hybrid car sales). EVs will comprise about two-thirds of a percent for all light-duty car sales in the United States in 2013. We’ll easily pass 1 percent in 2014; 1 percent is still very small — way too small — but it turns out that reaching 1 percent is a really important milestone. In fact, the game may be won when 1 percent is reached.


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