The Electric Vehicle Adoption Curve

I spent the better part of yesterday afternoon in a television studio in Ventura, interviewing Plug-In America vice president and co-founder Paul Scott. Paul had generously committed the time, and drove his Toyota RAV-4 EV up from Santa Monica for the occasion. I hope to have the interview chopped up into 3 – 4 minute segments and up on YouTube shortly. A still shot from the studio is below.

I walked away from the process far more hopeful and optimistic than I was when I first sat down. Here’s why:

Obviously, the oil companies are working hard to make sure this never happens. One could argue that some of them are more enlightened than others. In particular, according to Matt Simmons of peak oil fame, it’s something of a mixed bag. Here’s a bit of dialog from my book on renewables (to be published soon) — an excerpt from my interview with Matt:

Craig Shields: I don’t want to be crass about this thing, but it seems to me that if you are Chevron saying, “Imagine an oil company being part of the solution” you’re talking to people who simply don’t believe you. They are not part of the solution; they’re trying to milk to pump the last ounce of crude out of the ground.

Matt Simmons: That’s very accurate when it comes to Shell, BP and Exxon. Chevron is almost bold enough to break out and say that they actually acknowledge peak oil. And I had never met Jim Moulder — the chairman and CEO of ConocoPhillips — until the “Oil and Money” conference in London this fall. He’s sincerely interested in this….

But what about the car companies? I had always believed that they — overtly or covertly — were not intersted in promoting the migration to EVs either. But according to Paul — and I have to say that he more-less converted me on this point — the car companies and the power utilities are sincerely committed; it’s no longer just lip service. He feels strongly that the Fords, GMs, and Nissans of the world — soon to be followed by the laggards — view this is a make/break point of global competitiveness.

I certainly hope he’s right — and I welcome your comments.


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14 comments on “The Electric Vehicle Adoption Curve
  1. Hal Slater says:

    Electric cars are the “killer app” for solar energy systems. For about the cost of the super-duper trim package you will be able to buy a lifetime supply of fuel.

  2. Dan C says:

    In my past in R & D, I talked to testing personnel from various companies, sometimes in the auto industry. The idea that any of it is really political is just wrong. Mostly, it has to do with inertia and profits. The ‘old guard’ of corporations don’t like change, because that means instability and unpredictable profits. The technology folks work on new stuff all the time that would improve efficiencies or change the paradigms for transportation (electrics, composites, smart highways, etc.), but the change in the marketplace is controlled by price. For example, 12 years ago, someone showed me a composite truck driveshaft and said, “This won’t be feasible until gas is 4 bucks a gallon.” Gas has approached that point, and there are some composite driveshafts in use now.
    Everyone makes their decisions on profit/price, and the System of systems uses things like the income tax code and tariffs to manipulate prices toward their favored technology or field.
    Electrics can be built anytime we choose to build them. People will buy them when they are significantly cheaper enough to run than the discomfort of change is compensated by the difference in operating costs.
    Nobody really cares about pollution. They don’t believe in it any more than they believe in God. They just like to present their image of caring to the other people around them.
    It’s always about price vs. comfort(inertia). Humans are simple, reactionary creatures. The hot air we spew about how we are so intelligent and how we plan things and do things is pretty much a lie to make ourselves feel good, and to motivate other people to do more work than they actually have to do.
    Put the cost of all government(especially wars) into a sales tax (50%) on everything retail, and you will have electric vehicles and bicycles and local economies and small farms coming out of your ears, not to mention that traffic problems would go away.

  3. I believe any oil executive with a long range vision on global issues will acknowledge not only peak oil but also the adoption of EVs. sooner or later. I am sure I am not alone in the following million dollars monthly clean profit from a 1,600 sq. ft. unmanned operation:



    Concept #3

    Capacity: 800 recharging cells for standard 25kWh. 1’x3’x5’(15 cu.ft.) Pat. Pending battery containers on wheels running on rails.

    Estimated power-pack swapping time at the car-wash type loading bay: 2 to 3 seconds.

    Estimated time of recharging: 8 hrs. maximum, or ½ hr. on a fast charging mode.

    Estimated measurements of recharging plant: About 1600 sq.ft. by 13’ high [144m2 or 12m. Wide X 12m. in depth (including drive-through car-wash type unmanned swapping bay) X 4m. in height].

    Maximum serving capacity: 2,400 vehicles a day on a normal 8hrs. recharging cycle.
    Or 38,400 vehicles a day on a ½ hour fast recharging mode working uninterruptedly, swapping battery containers every 2.25 seconds 24/7.

    Revenue: (Gross profit on top of energy consumption) @ $10 per delivery, max. $24,000 a day ($720,000 a mo. $8.76m/yr.) on an eight hr. charging operation, or: $384K a day ($11.52m a mo, $138.24m/yr.) on a quick charging mode.

    Cost or rental of land: Depending on location and mode of operation.

    Cost of plant: To be estimated.

    Estimated maintenance costs: Average $1K to $3K a month depending on traffic flow.

    Energy consumption for recharging: About $2.00 per 25kWh. power pack @ commercial rate.

    Energy consumption for operation: Max. $ ? a day, minus energy generated by solar panels on the roofs.

    Preliminary Studies for Implementation of ARS inside gas stations

    A) Estimated number of licensed vehicles in the U.S.: 206,851.853
    B) Estimated number of filling stations: 154,432

    A/B= 1,339 fill-ups per station if all vehicles go to a filling station in a determined period of time. Or about an average of one vehicle per minute per station, should they all decide to get a fill up in the same 24hr. period.

    In our opinion, the (ARS) recharging plant would fit in just about (if not all) service stations without interfering with their normal petrol products business. Thus, the idea could be submitted to oil distributors and use their vehicular filling infrastructure network. They would then team up with electricity generators in order to enjoy many benefits including of the V2G (Vehicle to grid) system.

    In that system, will be cases when a PEV would leave a plug-in station with their batteries partly depleted because the utility company had to “borrow” energy from its power pack during an emergent demand, and then issued a credit to be collected at the nearest ARS, in case that vehicle had to leave the station before its batteries were fully recharged.

    In that scenario, the ARS will switch that pack to a freshly charged one, get paid from the from the hydro company for that borrowed energy and from the customer for the remainder balance of the tab.

    There will be cases when hydro companies would have borrow also from the huge amount of electricity stored at the network of ARS to cope with similar situations, sell them their normally unused electricity at night plus other lucrative transactions making the idea very attractive.

    As the 300V/25kWh. power-pack containers will be hopefully standardized and running on wheels, they could be refurbished at the end of their batteries’ life cycle and rolled into the racks of stationary high-voltage backup system with many applications.

    ARS in remote areas could be powered by wind/solar power generating systems to ensure the supply of “fuel” to long-haul electric travelers too.


    Roberto DePaschoal

  4. I believe that any oil executive with some vision would acknowledge the peak oil as well as the adoption of EVs. sooner or later.

  5. Arlene Allen says:

    I’m mostly in the camp of Dan C’s comments. I would add that the pendulum swing of modern american culture is now at odds with the bright Disneyesque future that we once all looked forward to. For the imagery, I suggest the old GE Carousel of Progress exhibit. There are plenty of others where that came from.

    I leave it to the social scientists for the explanation, but we are now mostly afraid of change rather than welcoming the Jetsons. Certainly, there is a fraction of us that are at the other end of the scale, but that scale is not even remotely in balance at the moment. The fascination with toys as exhibited by the generation now just coming online is not a counter balancing force just yet. Perhaps it might be with a little more changing of the guard.

    EV wise, everyone reading this site knows I’ve been driving a Mini E for a year now. It came along right when I was about to pull the trigger on a RAV4. I feel quite spoiled by it. I drive wherever I choose in my community and really don’t have to pay attention to anything other than getting the car washed. My home solar is quite substantial, and as a consequence, I’m “filling up” on the sun. Yes, all the early adopter caveats apply. I’m not denying them, but I have to say that the future of local transportation looks bright. Poor old Mad Max had to spend his life as a hunter-gatherer for gasoline. I’ll just keep on driving.

    For the last few weeks, Nissan Leaf commercials have been hitting prime time. After “Who killed…” how many of us thought we’d be seeing major players in the auto industry pushing a pure electric?

    Oil companies are as Dan C mentioned, but he left out one part. They are fine with transitions to new lines of business as long as the circumstances are orchestrated that they get there first so as to nail down the cash cow. If you look at their pattern of resource acquisitions in recent times, you can see them placing their individual bets on where the USA is going. This week’s news cycle has them lobbying the senate for increased gasoline taxes. Hmmm.

  6. Andrew says:

    So Craig, it sounds like you are starting to believe that the “big” corporations (at least some of the automotive OEMS and utilities) are not actually devils. If that is correct — welcome to the real world. Now we need to work on your double-standard of calling the profit motivated green movement “good” while calling the profit motivated energy companies “bad.” What you should admit is that you really mean, “Those who support my cause are good and those who don’t are bad.” I hope you come to see the irony and error in your position.

  7. Brett says:

    I really foresee people hanging on to their old cars for as long as they possibly can until the engine is as good as dead. If there is a network of garages around that offer conversions at a relatively low price, I think many might go for it especially if their commutes are relatively short. Here is something I just got involved in in Pittsburgh. Check it out if you like: chargecar . org

    It’s a different type of conversion involving supercapacitors and batteries.

    Many Thanks!

  8. Shelton Lankford says:

    Imagine that Charles Lindberg completed his historic flight across the Atlantic. Then 20 years go by before commercial aviation emerged in the form of significant passenger airlines. The modern era of electric vehicles began in 1990, according to Wikipedia, but the electric car has existed since the early 1830’s. The oil industry, aided and abetted by the automobile industry actively worked against any meaningful progress, and, in the meantime exerted political influence to discourage any meaningful advances in mass transit – ripping out streetcar tracks in cities and encouraging the paving over of huge swaths of land for the interstate highway system. Is it expected that they will just roll over and cease their footdragging? I continue to wait for the car I will buy as a follow-on to my Civic Hybrid. It will be a plug-in electric that will take care of most of my local trips electrically and only use gas for more extended trips. Does anyone imagine that this is a difficult problem for any serious car company?

  9. Garth says:

    I really don’t think who the energy brokers are will change; if the oil companies think the US is moving toward non-fossil fuel they will put a foot in that arena. As for EV if and when an alternate mode of transportation comes along, say anti gravity, EV is dead as will be internal combustion when the old engines reach a point where it costs too much to keep them going. In saying that, it really is all about economy and comfort rather than environment or politics.

  10. John Roche says:

    The offgrid backwoods folks will be especially liking the dropping prices of batteries and their increasing performance. It should work nicely with load leveling, energy storage, and charging up their electric dirtbikes like that one made by Zero. It might just turn out ironic that some of the biggest proponents of alot of this green technology are beer drinking rednecks.
    Now the problem will be that you won’t be able to hear them coming when on the back roads as those electric bikes are totally quiet.

  11. Change costs a lot of money. The EV-1 cost Millions in “Engineering and Tooling costs” But most consumers do not consider that. It is taking time to change over to EV from ICE. The longer the time the manufacturers take the smaller the cost per vehicle. so new models will take a long time to build volume. In the meantime we need to modernize the infrastructure also.

  12. Charles H. Street Jr says:

    I have an idea, that, I’am convinced will give us pollution free, renewable electricity. No fossil fuels, no toxic or nuclear waste of any kind. With proper consideration, this idea could be proven to work or not, by an engineer or a systems analyst. The items involved have all been time proven to do what they were designed to do. However, they have not been used together the way that I have in mind. I served in the U.S. Navy for ten years, I directed and inspected multi-million dollar aircraft on three different aircraft carriers. I’ve also attended several fire fighting and damage control schools. I’ve also been a civilian fire fighter for the City of Meridian, Ms. and on the flight line at NAS Meridian, Ms., for Lockheed Support Systems Inc. I’ve said that, not to brag, but to let you know that I’am serious. Construction and maintenance should be the only cost… Again, with proper consideration, this idea could be proven to work or not, by the right people. IF this won’t work, only time would be lost. Can you help me with this or point me in the right direction? Thank you for your time and consideration! Charles Howard Street Jr. 601-692-7524

    • Charles: I enjoyed our talk last evening. Per our chat, your idea won’t work. Having said that, I encourage real-world experimentation. Why don’t you try to build a working model and see what happens?

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