No, The Glass is Half Full!

Not too long ago, those who predicted that we'd soon have millions of gasoline-free electric vehicles on the road risked being called wild-eyed dreamers. Now, we're the pessimists.

Not long ago, those who predicted that we’d soon have millions of gasoline-free electric vehicles on the road risked being called wild-eyed dreamers. Now, we’re the pessimists.

Or at least that’s the impression one gets from reading today’s New York Times article on a consulting firm’s report on electric cars. The report found that the high cost of batteries will limit the penetration of electric cars to only 6 percent of the global automobile market by 2020; representing only 3 million cars. In other words, in a decade’s time, the electric car market will be roughly where the hybrid-electric car market is now.

And that’s supposed to be a bad thing?

This glass-half-empty spin on clean cars is becoming something of a pattern. In December, the Times’ Green Inc. blog ran an item on the recent National Research Council report on plug-in hybrids that estimated that only 13 million of those vehicles (and possibly as many as 40 million) will be on U.S. roads by 2030.

Now, I’m all in favor of defining success upward rather than downward. To adequately reduce our emissions of global warming pollution – to say nothing of weaning ourselves from our dependence on oil – we need to get as many clean cars on the road as quickly as we can. The numbers posited by the consulting firm and the NSC are not enough to get us where we need to go.

But the danger in suggesting that shifting a few percent of our cars to electric power is somehow unimportant or insignificant is that casual readers will throw up their hands and resign themselves to the impossibility of ever unseating the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine.That’s not what these studies are saying – not by a long shot.

There are all manner of hurdles in the way of a transition to an oil-free transportation system. But when two studies come out within a couple months’ time suggesting that, despite those obstacles, plug-in vehicles will capture a sizable share of that market in roughly a decade’s time, that’s no small measure of progress.


Tony Dutzik

Associate Director and Senior Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

Tony Dutzik is associate director and senior policy analyst with Frontier Group. His research and ideas on climate, energy and transportation policy have helped shape public policy debates across the U.S., and have earned coverage in media outlets from the New York Times to National Public Radio. A former journalist, Tony lives and works in Boston.