Electric vehicles looming large in hybrid rearviews

Electric-only vehicles are set to pull even with hybrid cars in the market, with the duo speeding towards 7 per cent of all global sales by 2020.

Hybrid vehicles may have had pole position so far in the race to a sustainable transportation future, but electric-only vehicles are about to pull even – and they’re both becoming a significant part of global vehicle sales.

Combined worldwide sales of hybrid and plug-in electric vehicles will reach 6.6 million annual units by 2020 and become almost 7 per cent of the total light-duty vehicle market, according to Navigant Research’s 2013-2020 Electric Vehicle Market Forecast.

Several factors are fueling this growth, including consumer demand for less-expensive operational costs compared to gasoline-powered vehicles, consistent government policy, multiple new models from major automakers, and lower battery prices.

Graph for Electric vehicles looming large in hybrid rearviews

Different electric vehicles, similar economic outlooks

Three different types of electric vehicles fall under Navigant’s forecast: hybrid electric vehicles, those that generate all their own electric energy; plug-in electric vehicles, those that use electricity from the grid and gasoline; and battery-electric vehicles, those that only use electricity from the grid.

While the three types of vehicles may have major differences in how they’re powered, a unique combination of factors means they all have one thing in common – they’re about to see a global sales boom.

Under Navigant’s outlook, HEVs will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.5 per cent, while plug-in hybrids will sell at a 31.9 per cent CAGR, and battery EVs increase at a 31.5 per cent CAGR over the next seven years.

Better prices and government policy drive consumer demand

So what’s powering this surge? “Electric vehicles, including plug-in models, are becoming an increasingly important part of the global automotive market,” said Navigant’s Dave Hurst. “Growth is being driven not only by the inherent appeal of the vehicles, but also by consumer demand.”

As always, favorable economics are the prime ingredient for market expansion. Gasoline prices are projected to increase at a 7.2 per cent CAGR between 2013 and 2020, while hybrid EV and plug-in hybrid battery pack prices are expected to decrease 10 per cent and 26 per cent respectively by 2020 as advanced research unlocks battery innovations.

Considering battery packs can represent up to half of EV prices, while the cost to recharge a car with electricity is a fraction of the cost compared to refueling with gasoline, it’s clear why Navigant sees lower EV operational costs as such a major market driver.

But beyond better economics, electric-powered vehicles are becoming much more mainstream with more options available to consumers. From established models like the Chevy VoltNissan Leaf, and Tesla Model S to new options like the Chevy Spark EV and hybrids from most major automakers, EVs are available in almost every price and performance range.

Navigant also credits steady government policy support for the rise in EV fortunes, expecting currently available tax incentives worldwide to remain steady and provide financial support for consumers, while stricter fuel economy and emissions regulations encourage automakers to continue expanding low-carbon options.

Cleaner cars equals 'green growth' across America

Perhaps most promising, this pending EV boom could also boost the economic outlook for several states across the US. North America is expected to be the largest plug-in hybrid market in the world and the only market anticipated to have significantly higher plug-in hybrid sales compared to battery-EV sales, with a 1.5:1 sales ratio.

Graph for Electric vehicles looming large in hybrid rearviews

These projections mean we’re about to see many more clean cars on US roads. Navigant forecasts over a million plug-in hybrids will be sold in California, New York, Washington, and Florida alone between 2013 and 2022. California is expected to dominate overall sales, with more than 815,000 units, while Hawaii will see the highest concentration with more than 10 per cent of total vehicle sales being plug-in hybrids.

While President Obama’s expectation of one million EVs on the road by 2015 might have been a little bit ahead of its time, the underlying trends hold true. Navigant’s forecasts are just the latest confirmation that low-carbon transportation is accelerating – bringing with it cleaner air, less dependence on fossil fuels, and a greener economy.

Silvio Marcacci is principal at Marcacci Communications, a clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington DC.

Originally published on CleanTechnica. Republished with permission.