We all love New Year’s predictions, but futurist Lars Thomsen just made a whopper—that EVs are such a disruptive technology that demand for gas-powered cars “will decline massively…as early as 2016.”
To make his case, at a conference in Austria in September, Thomsen compared electric cars to smart phones—world-dominating Nokia virtually disappeared after Apple introduced its first iPhone in 2007. He thinks plug-in cars are on a similar trajectory, and even regular hybrids (now far more numerous than electrics) will be on their way out by 2018.
Frankly, I’d like to have some of what Thomsen is smoking. Let’s be upfront—this scenario is not, repeat, not, going to play out. Electric cars can and will gradually gain market share—that will be apparent in the end-of-year stats—but they’re still a tiny niche of sales, and will remain so for quite a while.
Replacing a dumb phone with a smart one involves nothing more than signing onto a plan and spending a few hundred dollars. Buying songs on iTunes instead of CDs at Tower Records, equally disruptive, was a similarly easy transition. But a car is the biggest investment people make outside of their house, and it also has a fairly long useful life—the average car on the road is now 11.7 years old, according to R.L. Polk (up from 9.7 in 2003).
Thomsen even thinks that the government mandates now driving EV introductions will cease to matter, because people will just want electric cars the same way they now want the latest Android phone.
John Voelcker of Green Car Reports agrees with me that the basic idea is sound—electric cars are a disruptive technology. But, Voelcker puts it, “The auto industry pace is very different than consumer electronics and because the buyers are spending far more money [on a car], and doing it much less often, they tend to be more risk-averse.”
I expect EVs to change how we live, but not overnight. And, as my New York Times colleague Norman Mayersohn has pointed out, we’re stuck with the gasoline engine for some time. Twenty years after the first cars hit the highway, there were still a lot of horses on the road.