Can this graph predict the future of electric vehicle adoption?

There has been a lot of good news over the past few weeks about the sales of electric vehicles – Tesla is the best selling mid size premium sedan of ANY kind in the U.S., sales of EVs are up 34% in the UK, globally the number of electric cars on the road has doubled in the past year…

And since it just so happens that about 20 years ago, in 1997, the first hybrid vehicle – the Toyota Prius – was launched in Japan and ushered in the dawn of electric vehicles, it seems a good time to bring out this graph.

A graph showing the increase in vehicles sales over a 20 year period

It shows remarkable growth of vehicle sales over a 20 year period. They were almost imperceptible at first,  then slowly grew, and sales then blossomed to reach 20 million vehicles in the 20th year.

I think you’ll have to agree, that trajectory is pretty impressive.

But I intentionally misled you a bit by not providing all of the information.

This graph doesn’t show sales of hybrid or electric  vehicles at all. It shows the sales figures from a century ago, from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration of automobile registrations in the U.S. for the 20 year stretch from 1907 to 1926.

The registrations went from 140,000 per year to 20 million per year in those incredible two decades as the automobile began exerting its impact on everything about life in the United States and other western countries. 

Projected EV sales are even more dramatic

If sales of electric vehicles followed anything like that trajectory it is easy to imagine the effect that would have on the world of the future. As it turns out, the projected sales for electric vehicles are even more dramatic, and as we’ll see – there is good reason to believe that these projections are at the very least accurate and may even be conservative.

The charts below show those car registrations from a century ago compared with the latest EV sales projections to the year 2030 from Bloomberg New Energy Finance in their Electric Vehicle Outlook 2018 report. In the same kind of 20 year period, sales go from essentially zero to not 20 million but 30 million.

A chart comparing US car sales 1906-1926 with global electric vehicles sales 2011-2030


Before getting too carried away, this is obviously not a straight ‘apple to apple’ comparison. The EV chart is for worldwide sales while the century old chart is for the U.S. only. And of course electric vehicles have the task of replacing fossil fuel burning vehicles, while the horseless carriage was partly replacing carriages with horses and partly bringing a whole new mobility to people – and businesses – who did not have carriages. On the other hand, it was the U.S. leading the charge on adopting those cars, and the whole world is involved in purchasing electric vehicles.

One small point to make – while the fossil fuel cars reached sales of 20 million in two decades, it took another two decades, until 1947, to get to the 30 million plateau.

Real EV sales paint an even clearer picture

And some might say it’s not fair to compare actual figures with projections. So here’s a third chart that covers actual sales, as compiled by EV Volumes. Well, the 2018 figures are obviously projections, but everything so far this year seems to point to the figure being pretty close to reality, so I’m sticking with it.

I’ve tried to make it as much apple- to-apples as I can by starting each 9 year graph in the year when sales hit the 50,000 mark (1904 for internal combustion engine cars, 2010 for EVs).

If anything this demonstrates  an even more dramatic picture of how the number of electric vehicles is taking off. Electric vehicles have gone from 50,000 to nearly double what ICE cars reached – 1,900,000 in the same time period.

A graph comparing Car Sales 1904-1912 with EV Sales 2011-2018


The trend line is clear

My background is in advertising and marketing, where we are pretty adept at making the details of figures and charts say just about anything we want. But we are also pretty good at noticing when there is a trend. And these charts not only show a trend but a trend with historical precedent around the adoption of a similar product or service.

When you couple these graphs with the fact that the world’s major manufacturers of those fossil fuel cars that started taking over a century ago have already invested over $100B* in electrics and batteries…the future looks pretty inevitable.

The last chart I will leave you with is this one, from the Harvard Business Review, which shows the S-curve graphs of the adoption of all of the major advances of the past 100 years. The graph depicts adoption as a percentage of U.S. households, and EV penetration is still extremely low. But if you look at the green EV sales graph on the right (which I have put on the same 20 year scale as the rest of the figures) you can see it matches the speed of growth of things like VCRs, computers, cellphones and the internet itself.

Bring on the future.

* Post Script: Literally, as I was getting ready to publish this, I got a notice that BYTON has secured $500 million in funding to bring its electric vehicles to market.


Crystal ball image: Sasha/unsplash

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