Green Cars auto adoption rates

Published on December 24th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan

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Electric Car Sales Growth Is Actually Very Strong (Historical Perspective)

December 24th, 2013 by

Electric car sales have not yet hit 1% of new car sales in the US, but sales are growing fast and it looks certain that they will pass 1% in 2014. 2013 pure electric car sales are up 300% in 2013 compared to 2012. And hitting 1% could mean that electric cars are on their way to market domination by 2020. But to dig in even a little further on why a small percentage of sales in 2013 is not indicative of a small percentage of sales forever, let’s look at the history of conventional car sales and conventional hybrid sales real quickly.

Adjusting for population, after 3 years on the market, plug-in cars (pure electric cars + plug-in hybrid electric cars) have seen about 3 times as many sales as automobiles had seen after their first three years on the market, and also many more sales than conventional hybrids had seen 3 years after their introduction. Here’s more on this from Alex Planes of The Motley Fool:

The American auto industry effectively began in 1896 with a 13-vehicle production run at the Duryea Motor Wagon plant (or garage, as the case might well be). Three years later, just before the start of the 20th century, there were roughly 8,000 cars on what passed for American roads — virtually nothing was paved for vehicle travel. There were 8,000 EVs on the road after eight months of tracking. That’s not really fair, though, because there are more than three times as many people in the U.S. as there were at the turn of the 20th century. Adjusted for population growth, there should have been 33,000 EVs on the roads after three years. That happened after 19 months, and we’re now approaching three times that number midway through the third year of tracking. In fact, EVs are outperforming hybrids at the same point after adoption as well. Here’s what that looks like:

Automobile Adoption Rates | Create infographics


I included battery-only EVs on the chart to prove I wasn’t fudging the numbers on EV adoption by using plug-in hybrids — battery-only EVs surpassed the population-adjusted sales pace of the earliest cars with eight months to go in their third year of tracking. It’s also worth pointing out that battery-only EVs have outsold plug-in hybrids by more than 1,000 vehicles for each of the past three months and are on track to reach a cumulative total of roughly 68,000 sales at the end of the year.

Why compare EVs with the earliest cars? The “motor wagons” of the late 1800s faced similar challenges to those often attributed to EVs: minimal supporting infrastructure and a high price tag relative to the dominant (horse-drawn) transportation of the day.

Note that the article quoted above was published in June, and the story for battery-only EVs has gotten even better since then.

The critical thing for a technology to really take over, however, is that it really be better. While a lot of people don’t realize it yet, I’d contend that electric cars certainly are better. The majority of the population isn’t even familiar with the most popular electric cars on the market. They don’t really know anything about electric cars. So, there’s a lot of education that needs to be done. But I’m convinced that sales will fly up as more and more people become aware of them and then test them out. This seems to be the trend, and there are qualitative reasons for that.

Are electric cars better in every single way? No, of course, not, but they are much better in net, in my humble opinion. The media very regressively focuses on the one or two areas in which electric cars are weaker, but as I’ve noted, there are at least 8 ways in which electric cars are much better than gasmobiles.

For much more on electric cars, check out this page about electric car facts and current electric cars for sale in the US.

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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • Charli Jay

    Interesting – I’d like to find out more about the rate of adoption for electric cars in other countries – is it higher in countries like China and Japan where their technology is more advanced?

    Charli @ Tradesure

  • Charli Jay

    Interesting – I’d like to find out more about the rate of adoption for electric cars in other countries – is it higher in countries like China and Japan where their technology is more advanced?

    Charli @ Tradesure

  • Smurf100

    Nice article. I wish you had put in a separate line item for plugin hybrids though. I think that pure battery EV’s and plugin hybrids are two very different vehicles and we should track the adoption rate of each vehicle separately.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks. The chart separates them out, but I assume you mean my own comments. I considered it.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Btw, I do report/track them separately in my monthly & running sales updates on EV Obsession. Latest one: http://evobsession.com/electric-car-sales-300-2013/

  • Smurf100

    Nice article. I wish you had put in a separate line item for plugin hybrids though. I think that pure battery EV’s and plugin hybrids are two very different vehicles and we should track the adoption rate of each vehicle separately.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Thanks. The chart separates them out, but I assume you mean my own comments. I considered it.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Btw, I do report/track them separately in my monthly & running sales updates on EV Obsession. Latest one: http://evobsession.com/electric-car-sales-300-2013/

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