The ‘tipping point’ for wide EV adoption has arrived. Now what?

For those of us not schooled in the deep analytics of our economy—-your correspondent included—a reference to a “tipping point” might not immediately be clear. In Washington Post-speak, however, it revolves specifically around the adoption by the public of electric vehicles.

Strictly speaking, a tipping point, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is when “a series of small changes or incidents becomes significant enough to cause a larger, more important, and often irreversible change.”

As defined in a recent essay in the Post, it occurs as well in the automotive universe when between five and ten percent of new car sales are made up of electric vehicles. Last year, the Post reports, “the United States finally passed that elusive mark — five percent of all new carssold in the fourth quarter were fully electric. And earlier this year, all-electric vehicles made up about seven percent of new car sales.’

Research, according to the story, suggests that now, electric car sales will soar—to 25 percent, 50 percent and eventually to close to 80 percent of new sales. At that point, the newspaper says, “early adopters who love shiny new technologies will be replaced by mainstream consumers just looking for a good deal.’

It’s a rather fascinating proposition, even if it doesn’t come to pass in the United States as predicted. That’s because “a hesitant American public — and a still-subpar charging infrastructure,” may deep-six the argument.

But there are exceptions, the piece notes: Norway, for instance, where ten years ago EVs comprised only five percent of the new vehicle population. Today, four out of five vehicles sold there are fully electric.

But that’s the exception. The Post story delves into how politics and the limitations imposed by an inadequate charging network can stall the post-tipping point process. It cities a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll showing that nearly half of adults (46 percent) say they prefer to own a gas-powered car or truck. That compares with 19 percent who want a full-electric vehicle, 13 percent who want a plug-in hybrid and 22 percent who want a traditional hybrid vehicle.

Those findings are countered the story goes on to report, because “just over a third of Americans say EVs are better for driving places they go day-to-day than gas-powered vehicles, but majorities say they are better for reducing climate change (59 percent) and air pollution (70 percent).”

So what’s the current prognosis for electrics sales beyond-the-tipping point in the US? The Post quotes Stephanie Valdez Streaty, director of mobility research and development at Cox Automotive, as being optimistic about its eventual arrival. “But it depends,” the story says, “on how quickly charging infrastructure expands across the country and how quickly electric vehicle prices can come down, she said.”

The Post’s essay is entitled “America passed the EV ‘tipping point’ — but many buyers still want gas.” It can be accessed here; a subscription may be required.

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