The diffusion of electric vehicles: step-change or mass transition?

Can the market for a new technology like electric vehicles grow and survive if it occurs a progressive, step- transition?  I will argue that the answer is NO, for the following reasons.

First, many other examples of successful technological innovations recently have not occurred as linear, slow incremental changes: they have been exponentially-growing, societal revolutions of the way people live and interact.  Very clear examples include the internet, smart mobile phones, the cloud, and so on.  If EVs are too slow on the uptake, and fail to be a “disruptive technology”, they will soon enough be outcompeted by alternative fuel technologies.

Second, a widespread adoption of EVs requires charging infrastructure that is interoperable and information systems that are standardised.  Setting up such an infrastructure cannot be done in a piecemeal fashion.  Rather, it requires large-scale coordination of developers and, potentially, considerable market power to impose one’s own standards.  If you are a member of one EV-charging scheme, and you are locked out from charging stations because of your exclusive contract with your provider, or the incompatible ID recognition software, you have all the reasons in the world to tell your friends *not* to buy an EV.  And user experiences are precisely what this industry relies on to grow.

So, a mixed fleet where a small percentage of drivers have an EV and others don’t, is not a likely viable scenario.  EVs cannot be expected to be perfect right away, yet for a consumer-driven market to materialize, they need to be ready to scale up.  The future will be all-electric – or not.

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One response to “The diffusion of electric vehicles: step-change or mass transition?

  1. Agree on the need for it to be a disruptive technology but surely a way can be found to use the market to deliver a national infrastructure?

    For instance by using the promise of future income from licenses granted to regional operators to invest and build interoperable charging stations across the country.

    If this is feasible the main barrier is therefore political rather than practical.

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