The Electric Car Cost Tipping Point


Published on March 21st, 2020 |
by Zachary Shahan

March 21st, 2020 by  

One of the most interesting and most challenging things in my career in cleantech media in the past decade has been communicating technology transitions. It is simply so difficult for us humans to deeply comprehend (or “digest”) the arc of the trends as they are occurring. Even a rapid market transition seems like it is going very slowly (“taking forever”) until it happens all of a sudden.

It is sort of like an approaching train. If you watch from far away, it seems like the train is coming along so slowly and taking so long, but once the train is near, it zooms past you super quickly.

I have written or given presentations about the transition to electric vehicles many times, but I never quite feel satisfied with how well I can communicate it. In January, I showed that leading countries have been moving from 2–3% EV market share to 10–50% EV market share pretty quickly. But this point, even with graph included, seemed like it was still lacking and not conveying the message well enough.

So, recently, I decided to create another graph, one with a bit less data (no actual data) based on the most critical part of the transition or trend. The core trend is in the cost of EV batteries. That is what has made the upfront cost of electric cars more expensive than fossil fuel cars historically, and also what has been changing fast, enabling hyper-competitive electric vehicles like the Tesla Model 3 and Tesla Model Y (and, presumably, the coming Volkswagen ID.3 and some other models). If you look at total cost of ownership, the story gets even better, especially for the Tesla Model 3 and Model Y.

So, here’s a graph showing the battery cost trend (with no actual data underlying it, but more or less representative of what’s happening) and the cost trend of battery electric cars and gasoline-powered cars (again, with no actual data underlying it):

The point, of course, is that as we move beyond the crossover point we’re in right now, it’s not going to make much sense to buy a gasoline-powered car. In fact, because cars last for a long time and the first owner typically sells his or her car eventually to recoup a large portion of the initial cost, it already doesn’t make much sense to buy a gasoline-powered car.

Where fake graph above leads is perhaps best explained in Maarten Vinkhuyzen’s article “The Osborne Effect on the Auto Industry,” which is already starting to get backed up by real data. See: “Capital One: Value of Luxury Gas Cars Getting Slammed by Tesla Model 3.” I highly recommend reading both.

For more data-backed graphs and a longer presentation on this general topic, I highly recommend this video of BloombergNEF’s Colin Mckerracher:

Here are a few more related charts and graphs shared in Kyle Field’s article about his presentation in February:

Screen capture from BloombergNEF presentation.

Screen capture from BloombergNEF presentation.

And here’s David Havasi and me talking about this trend and some real-world experiences and products that have resulted from it:


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About the Author

is tryin’ to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao.

Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.

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