At some point this month, one million electric vehicles (including plug-in hybrid and full battery electric vehicles) have now been sold worldwide. This took place in only six years, which is four years faster than it took non-plug-in hybrids (e.g. Toyota Prius) to reach one million in sales.
This is the highest amount of EVs to ever ply the roads, even taking into account the fact that EVs were popular twice before (1910s and 1990s). So what makes this time different?
For one, batteries. The battery technology (primarily lithium-ion) has developed increasingly with higher energy density (which partly determines range) and lower costs. The costs have not quite dropped as much as steeply as that of solar PV, the cleantech golden child of the last few years, but they are steadily coming down. Along with that, range continues to increase with EVs like the most recent Nissan LEAF getting 25% more in range. Similarly, infrastructure continues to be deployed, including Tesla’s charging network allowing for coast-to-coast travel in the US.
So how much is a million in the grand scheme of things? Well, given that there are around one billion cars plying the road, it is only 0.1% of vehicle stock. However, the growth in sales tells another story. In 2014, the percentage of car sales that were EVs was already above 1% in the following countries: Norway, the Netherlands, US, and Sweden.
While one million vehicles is what the US had hoped to achieve by itself by 2015, reality is following ambition and goals, as is often the case. However, meeting self-made targets is less important than the interim steps that EVs must meet to ramp up to mainstream numbers, key to meeting reductions in local air pollution and climate change pollutants. One million is a relatively small yet ultimately important number, and it may very well signify EVs becoming a foregone conclusion.