Are You Waiting for the Perfect Electric Car?

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©. Sami Grover

And will gas cars suffer as a result?

Some time back, I asked readers whether I should buy the new Nissan Leaf 2.0 or wait for a longer range version. To cut a long story short, I waited. And I'm enjoying my $0 car payments so much that I'm likely to wait some more.

But this isn't about me.

It's actually about a super interesting post by Maarten Vinkhuyzen over at Cleantechnica about something called the Osborne Effect. Here's the basic premise:

At some point relatively soon, the car market will move from having about a dozen viable electric cars to one in which there will be three dozen of them. Most of the new cars will be a better value proposition than what is now on the market. These new entrants will garner a lot of press coverage and word-of-mouth buzz. The effect will likely be that fully battery electric vehicles (BEVs) will not just be something that only the nerds and very early adopters know about. It will become real for a large portion of the public. Realizing that far better cars are just around the corner, they just have to wait a few more moments for them.

The Osborne effect essentially describes the moment when consumers become aware that currently available products can't possibly live up to the products that are just around the corner—meaning they choose to delay or defer a purchase until they can get what they really want.

Thinking through the comments we tend to get on electric car stories—"nice car, but I can't wait for XX more range/XX less price/XX more cargo room"—I suspect that our core constituency of TreeHuggers is already in Osborne's grip. What will be more interesting is whether mainstream car buyers start putting off purchases as they get to experience their friends' Model 3s, their neighbors' Leaf 2.0s, or plug-in hybrid minivans. Even if these cars aren't quite right for them, they'll likely start seeing and hearing about the benefits of lower maintenance costs, plugging in at home, or instant torque and acceleration.

And given that legacy automakers are trying to eke out profits from their existing product lines as they ramp up electrification, any drop in gas car sales could significantly impact their plans for navigating the transition. And gas car sales may be dropping already. According to Vinkhuyzen, the Osbourne Effect as it relates to electrification might be every bit as severe as the 2008 recession:

The nightmare is that it is the car industry falling off a steep cliff. This industry employs tens of millions of people directly and hundreds of millions of people are dependent on the economic activity of those tens of millions. This yellow line is a big economic worldwide recession. Perhaps only China will escape the worst of it. China is forcing the local car industry to lead the transition, perhaps just enough to have capacity when demand drastically swaps from mainly FFV to mostly BEV.

If you're reading TreeHugger, you're likely 100% excited for a fossil fuel free future. And you should be. But as you save your money to buy the vehicle you really want, you might also want to put something aside for the economic turbulence that may already be on its way.