Looking Back, Looking ForwardIt's that time of the year when statistics about the past and forecasts about the next one come out. I always try to keep an eye on plug-in vehicle sales, not because I have an exact target number in mind (more on that below), but to see if we're maintaining healthy growth. For 2012, looks like we can say 'mission accomplished': In the USA, about 53,000 plug-ins were sold in 2012, compared to about 17,500 in 2011. Might not have reached every target set in the industry, but a few years of compounding like this and it will truly start to make a difference.
As for the future, I don't have numbers for the USA, but Ben Lane of nextgreencar.com has a forecast for the United Kingdom: "Sales of electric cars in Britain are expected to double in 2013 as cheaper models enter the market and the number of charging points increases. Numbers of fully electric cars are expected to rise from 3,000 to 6,000". I can't say if the forecast will turn out to be accurate, but a doubling would certain fall within my 'healthy growth' range!
The Technology CycleNew technologies almost always go through the same phases when they come out, and after the R&D lab, in the early days of commercialization, they are always always more expensive than what most people would like to pay and not quite full-featured yet. Just think back to the first cellphones, computers, VCRs or DVD players, microwaves... Heck, someone old enough could think back to the first cars! But after a certain number of iterations, with some incremental improvements each time, and with economies of scale, capabilities usually increase and prices drop to a level that makes things move much faster.
We're not quite there yet with electric cars, but it's coming. A lot of sales targets have been missed for EVs and PHEVs, but it's because it's a lot harder to predict how many of someone totally new like the Nissan LEAF you're going to sell than the new version of the gas-powered Corolla or whatever. External factors also play a role: If the world economy is going badly, people won't feel like taking a chance with their money. If distribution has hiccups and dealerships can't get their hands on enough EVs, they'll miss sales.
So while I'm in as much of a hurry as anyone to see plug-ins replace gasoline and diesel vehicles, I try to remember that these things take time, and that initial challenges are normal and not necessarily a sign of things to come. As long as growth stays healthy, we'll get there.