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Electric Car Sales Off To A Slow Start

Posted in auto industry, Electric Cars, News by Kurt Ernst | February 4th, 2011 | Leave a Reply |

Chevy's Volt is the best selling EV in the U.S.; nearly 650 have been sold to date. Image: © GM Corp.

If the current administration has their way, there will be 1,000,000 electric vehicles on U.S. roads by 2015. Starting in February 2011, that means that consumers will need to buy around 21,718 EVs per month, and that’s nowhere close to happening. In January, for example, Nissan sold just 87 Leafs and Chevrolet sold just 321 Volts. Granted, this is due largely to supply chain and distribution issues, so the numbers really don’t reflect an accurate portrayal of consumer demand. Still, there’s a big leap between a few hundred per month and 21,718 per month; to put it in perspective, that’s about 2/3 the number of Ford F150s sold each month and about 3/4 the number of Chevy Silverados sold each month. Something will need to happen to create additional demand for electric vehicles.

That something could come in the form of increased gas prices, but gas prices have historically been cyclical. A temporary increase to $4.00 per gallon isn’t enough to sway people to electric cars, but a permanent increase to that level might be. On the flip side, if you give consumers enough of a monetary incentive to buy an electric car, suddenly it may become a more viable choice. Like anything else in life, it’s all about maximizing pleasure or minimizing pain.

The push to go electric raises some other potentially interesting questions that have yet to be addressed. A few electric cars in the neighborhood probably won’t tax an area’s electric grid (although here in Jacksonville, plugging in the toaster occasionally taxes our electric grid), but what happens if and when we get to the 21,718 per month number? Are we making improvements to the power transmission infrastructure to accommodate this? Given that we barely have enough generation capacity to meet demand for air conditioning during summer months, how will we meet the needs of electric car owners on top of existing usage? Maybe things are different in your area, but I really don’t see any improvements to electric power generation or transmission down here.

I suspect the problem will sort itself out, like these things usually do. Barring some catastrophic event (like running out of oil), consumers will only embrace EVs when they’re a better choice than gasoline powered vehicles. Battery technology needs quite a bit of advancement before we’re there, but you have to start somewhere. If the Nissan Leaf or the Chevy Volt fit your current needs, there’s nothing wrong with being an early adopter.

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