Electric cars are the future for commuting, but dial down the hype

I’ve seen a couple of articles the past week or two promoting the era of the electric vehicle. These articles breathlessly speak of how quickly people will move from gasoline to electric cars. Here is one article in particular. This is a reality check.

Personal experience and biases:
I’ve driven a Tesla Model S, and its acceleration is awesome. I would love to own one.
There is a house on my street with two Chevy Volts but I’ve not seen anyone around my area with a fully electric car.
I find the idea of an EV interesting, but 80 mile range is light for all but commuting, and I want some more power from my EV (a la Tesla) but $60k+ is way too spendy.
A $30k EV with 2/3 of the acceleration and range of the Model S would really catch my attention and probably have incredible sales nationwide. I think Toyota, Tesla, and others will be there in perhaps 5 years.

Big picture:
There are 254 million registered vehicles in the USA.
At an estimated cost of $20k per vehicle to replace (currently below almost all electric vehicles), that’s $5 trillion.
At a realistic cost of $35k per vehicle to replace (Model 3 and other options), that’s $9 trillion.

The 2014 USA GDP is $16 trillion.

16 million cars total are expected to be sold in 2014. At that rate (which is a high water mark), it would take 8 years just to replace half of the gas cars on the road if every single car sold from today forward were an electric car.

It’s hard to get real numbers, but it seems like somewhere between 200k and 1.2 million electric + plug-in hybrids were sold in the USA in 2014. Even if we say it’s 1 million/year and the number goes up by 50% every year (incredible sustained growth), it will take 5 years to reach 11.4 million electric vehicles sold per year. At that rate (a more realistic maximum for electric vehicles year sales considering all the reasons why people wouldn’t choose electric), it will take another
9 years to reach the 50% mark of all cars.

So that would be 9 + 5 = 14 years for a “best case” realistic scenario for us to have 50% of all registered vehicles being electric. And that’s assuming we’ll still have 254 million cars on the road in 2030… estimating 350 million would probably be more accurate so it would STILL be only 36% of all registered cars (granted, miles driven may start to favor electric at that point).

So while the % of sales for electric vehicles will likely accelerate exponentially, it’s a long, long time until gas stations start getting inconvenient. More likely in the 10-15 year timeframe, instead of having 2 gas stations right next to each other as seems to be very common, they’ll start spreading out more. Maybe by 25 years, they’ll be reduced in number enough to actually be inconvenient for daily use. It definitely won’t be in 10 years.

Revolutions do happen (how many people carried a cell phone in 1990 vs. 2005? That took 10-15 years for a $300-600 item, this is something that costs 100x more), but it takes time and money.