A small but significant portion of car owners in the United States have switched from filling to plugging in, and many more are thinking of joining them. In a recent Pew Research Center survey, 7% of U.S. adults said they currently own an electric or hybrid vehicle, and 39% said they were very or somewhat likely to seriously consider purchasing an electric vehicle in the next once it’s on the market. new wheels
Outside of a few major metropolitan areas, electric vehicles (EVs) are not as common in the US While their numbers have grown rapidly in absolute terms in recent years, that’s from a relatively small base.
As of 2020, nearly 1.8 million electric vehicles were registered in the US, more than triple the number in 2016, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). They come in three broad categories. Fully electric vehicles (also called battery electric vehicles) have been the fastest growing category: the total number of such vehicles registered in the US has increased from less than 300,000 in 2016 to more than 1, 1 million last year. Consumers have bought the other two types of electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, at lower prices.
With electric vehicles (EVs) slowly but steadily gaining popularity in the US, we wanted to know how widespread they are and how their growth here compares to other parts of the world.
Our main data source was the International Energy Agency, an affiliate of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. We also use data on electric vehicles and charging stations from the US Department of Energy, specifically the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and its Alternative Fuels Data Center. This data set is updated frequently; we access it on May 25, 2021.
Other sources included the Census Bureau, for data on vehicle registrations and information on electric cars a century ago, and the Idaho National Laboratory for information on the past, present, and possible future of electric cars.
Although the details can be a bit confusing, these days electric vehicles (EVs) come in three basic types. “Full electric vehicles,” sometimes called “battery electric vehicles,” are powered entirely by electricity stored in their on-board battery packs. “Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles” have a small internal combustion engine along with the battery pack; if the batteries die, the gasoline engine can take over. With both types, users recharge their batteries by plugging their cars into special charging stations. The third type, “fuel cell electric vehicles,” have fuel cells on board that generate electricity from compressed hydrogen to power the engine. But there are far fewer fuel cell vehicles than the other two varieties.
All of these are distinct from “hybrid electric vehicles,” in which a relatively small electric motor supplements an internal combustion engine. This was a common configuration in the first generation of mass market “electric cars”, but because these cars do not have rechargeable batteries and their electric motors are too small to power them on their own, they are not generally counted as electric vehicles today.
But the US accounts for only about 17% of the world’s total stock of 10.2 million electric vehicles, according to IEA data. China has 44% of all electric vehicles in the world (more than 4.5 million), and the almost 3.2 million in Europe represent around 31%.
The fastest growth in electric vehicle sales has been in Europe: a compound annual growth rate of 60% from 2016 to 2020, compared to increases of 36% in China and 17% in the US.
Last year, almost three quarters of all cars sold in Norway and more than half of those sold in Iceland were electric, by far the highest market shares for electric vehicles in any of the 31 countries for which the IEA has collected data. In 10 other European countries, between a tenth and a third of all new car sales last year were electric.
By contrast, sales have slowed in the US in recent years, largely due to the decline in popularity of plug-in hybrids and the phasing out of federal tax credits on some of the most popular models. . About 64,300 plug-in hybrids were sold last year, about half as many as in 2018, according to the IEA. Meanwhile, about 231,000 all-electric vehicles were sold in 2020, down 3.2% from 2018. In each of the last three years, electric vehicles made up about 2% of the US new car market. The COVID-19 pandemic may have affected vehicle sales of all types in 2020, making comparisons difficult.
California has by far the highest proportion of electric vehicles of any US state, which is to be expected, given that the state has for decades required automakers to build electric vehicles and has used a number of rebates and other incentives to encourage Californians to buy them. As of 2018, the most recent year for which federal data is available, California had about 12 electric vehicle registrations per 1,000 people; the next highest state, Hawaii, had about six registrations per 1,000 people.
To support all those electric vehicles, California has also led the way in building networks of charging stations. Of the more than 42,000 publicly accessible charging stations in the US as of May 25, 2021 (containing more than 102,000 individual outlets) across the US, nearly a third (30.8% ) is located in California, according to analysis by the Department of Energy’s Pew Research Center. data. For comparison, there are an estimated 145,000 to 150,000 gasoline retailers in the US.
However, relative to the size of its vehicle fleet, Washington, DC may be the most convenient place in the US to drive an electric vehicle. The 237 charging stations in the federal district have a total of 630 outlets, or one for every 487 privately owned cars and trucks on DC roads. (Vermont and, yes, California rank second and third; the national average is one outlet for every 2,570 private and commercial cars and trucks.)
Nationwide, the number of publicly available charging stations has more than tripled since 2015, when there were fewer than 32,000 nationwide, according to IEA data. The agency projects that number will grow dramatically by the end of the decade, between 800,000 and 1.7 million, depending on the public policies that are adopted. (President Joe Biden’s infrastructure proposal includes a national network of 500,000 charging stations; in the Pew Research Center poll, 62% of Americans said they favored that plan.)
Electric cars weren’t always such a small percentage of the US market. More than a century ago, when the automobile business was still in the learner’s permit stage, electricity fiercely competed with steam and gasoline to be the new industry’s dominant power source. In 1900, in fact, more than a third of all cars made in the US were electric, according to a Census Bureau report from that time. (That’s right, it was 1,575 cars out of 4,192, but still.)
Within a couple of decades, however, several developments would lead to the dominance of the gasoline-powered internal combustion engine. Among them were the public desire for longer-range vehicles; electric starters that replace cumbersome and dangerous cranks; lower gasoline prices; and assembly line mass production. By 1935, electric vehicles had all but disappeared.