As the world’s population becomes increasingly more urban, our cities - already bursting at the seems - continue to grow even larger. This brings with it some obvious issues, not least of which is congestion, the overcapacity of transportation options on our roads, and the impact on our environment that this entails.
All signs, then, would appear to point towards a future where the electric vehicle is one day ubiquitous.
In the U.S., sales of plug-in electric vehicles have increased steadily since 2012 and spiked last year with sales estimated at 400,000, doubling 2017’s total. Even this, though, is a fraction of what is to come. By 2025, six car makers are expecting to sell more electric cars in the U.S. on their own than were sold last year overall.
Nonetheless, when talking about electric vehicles, the U.S. remains somewhat of an oddity – largely because interest in buying electric cars has, thus far, proved higher in the rest of the world. In 2018, fewer than one in five U.S. consumers expressed an interest in having any alternatives to gas or diesel engines. In Mexico, interest in alternatives such as hybrid and plug-in electric was double that of the U.S. And in China, more than 60 percent of consumers want electric vehicles.
One explanation for the disparity in interest in electric vehicles between the U.S. and other countries is that those other countries have surged ahead in paving the way for this new mobile technology. In 2018, Sweden built an electrified public road near Stockholm that can recharge electric car batteries as it’s driven on, and China announced plans for an “intelligent highway” that will not only charge electric cars but supply clean energy to the grid. India, which wants 30 percent of all vehicles to be electric by 2030, has issued ambitious new rules to encourage EV use, including letting people set up their own charging stations without a license. And both France and the U.K. want to ban sales of traditional combustion-engine vehicles by 2040.
In the U.S., the lack of a charging infrastructure in big cities, let alone on the interstate highway system, is a major factor in this unrealized consumer demand. In fact, Americans cite the infrequency of charging stations more often than price as the key driver for the lack of consideration to buying a plug-in electric car.
There have been other impediments of course – like federal opposition to progressive environmental mandates, and the U.S.’s trade war with China. None of these challenges are insurmountable however, and demand should pick up once some, or all of these barriers are removed.
More importantly, in the next few years, we are going to see a rapid consolidation of much of the technology used in EVs. The value that this will have on our lives is hard to quantify at this point, but this shift towards a smart transport ecosystem makes clear economic sense, helping to drive further innovation, and addressing real urban predicaments like congestion and pollution.