According to a recent report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), while sales of fossil-fuelled passenger vehicles are set to fall globally by 15% in 2020, sales of electric vehicles (EVs) are likely to remain steady. It will result in an increasing proportion of new car sales being EVs. However, this slow increase in the proportion of EVs will be too gradual to have any meaningful impact on climate change.
Interestingly, the report stated that barriers to EV adoption include falling battery costs and technology improvements. I had to read that sentence twice as it seemed counterintuitive. However, this makes sense when technology is developing rapidly. Consumers see the rapid advances in technology and therefore delay purchases knowing that next year’s model will be cheaper and better. Once the technology is mature, then this hesitating to purchase is removed.
The take up of new technology (in this case EVs) or ideas (perhaps regarding climate change) follows the classic normal distribution and has been extensively researched. The first adopters of new technology tend to be the affluent, young and well educated, this would correspond to the Early Adopters in the model below. On the other hand, the laggards will be those who have left it so late to purchase that the only choice is the new technology (i.e. EVs as diesel or petrol vehicles are no longer available). The job of governments and their agencies is, therefore, to understand this model and shift the curve so that the adoption of EVs achieves critical mass earlier.
Giving blanket incentives to all may not be a prudent use of public money. It may just be used by those early adopters who were going to buy anyway (and usually they can afford too without incentives). Much of the research on the innovation adoption lifecycle comes from the 1950s and 1960s and is therefore dated.
Norway’s government’s commitments to Zero Emissions from new cars by 2025, has propelled that country to the top spot on the uptake of EV’s in the world. The plug-in EV share on the new car market is 49% (2018 data). Perhaps that strategy needs to be investigated, and our own scrutinised as Ireland has the same goal set for 2030 but with EV’s only 1.6% (2018 data) share in the new car market.
Bob Sutcliffe is director of Environmental Efficiency, an Irish based environmental and sustainability constancy.