The International Energy Agency reports that 1.26 million electric cars — both battery and plug-in hybrid — were sold worldwide in 2015. Is that a lot? It depends on how you look at the numbers and who is asking the questions. The IEA says there needs to be 100 million electric cars on the road by 2030 in order to keep average global temperatures from soaring past 2º Celsius. Is that possible?
Take a look at the chart above. The trend is certainly up. Keep in mind that there were only a few hundred electric cars on the road in 2008 and the current number is a lot higher than anyone would have expected back then. The number has tripled just since 2013. But there is still a long road ahead if we are going to get to 100 million EVs in the next 14 years.
By comparison, there are 1 billion vehicles on the road worldwide at present and that number is expected to increase dramatically in the next 20 years as demand in countries like India and China continues to soar. The good news is, the IEA says the odds of getting to 100 million EVs by 2030 are getting better, thanks to aggressive pro-electric car incentives being put in place by many countries around the world.
“Ambitious targets and policy support have lowered vehicle costs, extended vehicle range and reduced consumer barriers in a number of countries,” the report says. As a result, electric vehicles now make up more than 1% of sales in China, France, Denmark, and Sweden. They are almost 10% of sales in the Netherland and 23% in Norway.
Other important factors are a continuing decline in the cost of batteries for EVs and an increase in battery density. The IEA says batteries will need to cost less than $125 per kWh in order for electric cars to be price competitive with conventional cars. It thinks battery manufacturers will be able to get there by 2022, but Tesla may be at that point already and pushing hard to go even lower as it Gigafactory ramps up toward full production.
The IEA also points out that electric alternatives to internal combustion engines will be needed for two wheeled vehicles, heavy trucks, and buses in order to complete climate change targets. Many companies are working hard in those areas, particularly Wrightspeed when it comes to work trucks and Proterra for inner city buses.
Meanwhile, Gareth Dunsmore, head of Nissan’s European EV division, says he expects 20% of all new cars sold in Europe will be electric by 2020. Whether he thinks Nissan will be part of that trend is unclear. “Electric vehicles such as the Leaf and e-NV200 currently account for 6% of Nissan’s European sales,” Dunsmore told AutoBlog recently. Unless Nissan introduces new models that are significantly more appealing than the LEAF, it seems unlikey that its sales are going anywhere but down.
The LEAF is more appropriate for European needs, where average daily driving distances are shorter than they are in the US, but the car is now ancient in its technology and styling. The company has shown little interest in making the LEAF more desirable and will soon face major competition from more modern designs that sell for the same or less money.
The pace of electric car sales is increasing, but whether that continues depends on many factors. Countries like China and Norway are already talking about scaling back EV incentives, which cost governments billions every year. Low gasoline prices are also making the road forward harder for electric cars. Sales of EVs in the US market have been disappointing so far this year. Whether the world can get to 100 million electric cars by 2030 is anybody’s guess.