In response to my piece on the electric vehicle adoption curve, in which I suggested that EVs represented more than a “niche” market, frequent commenter and senior physicist Glenn Doty wrote:
Most of those multi-car households have one SUV or pickup truck and one large vehicle. Why?
Why would the majority of households, when determining the vehicle they wish to purchase in a time of high gasoline prices, choose an SUV? The answer: versatility.
The Leaf is a car that does not fulfill the requirements of a vehicle: to get you where you want to go when you want to go there. So in order to own a Leaf I have to buy another whole car!
The exact same calculation will and must occur in a two-car household if family or business requires one member of the house to leave town (which of course also cannot be done in an EV).
Niche is a completely valid market expression for an expensive vehicle that one understands at the point of purchase cannot be used in thousands of conceivable cases in which a vehicle will be needed.
Glenn, you’re a brilliant guy, and I learn from everything you write. And there’s a lot of truth here. But, if it’s after 5 PM your time, I ask you to crack open a beer (as I did before settling in to write this last night) and look at it this way:
If we still have a civilization here in 100 years, it will be because we became a “Class I Civilization” in Michio Kaku’s parlance, i.e., one that has figured out to power its needs from its local star. Will there be politically, economically, and technologically perilous moments along the way? Of course. Obviously, we’re confronting one now: our own potential demise as a result of our harvesting the sun’s ancient energy that had been stored in long-dead plants and animals.
Call me a dreamer, a pseudo-scientist, or whatever you like. Not to digress, but there’s some level of truth in both. After all, I actually do think there is hope for mankind, and, though I am a man of science, I don’t pretend to play at the level of you and your father (Dr. David Doty) whom I so greatly admire.
But at the end of the day, the Earth receives 6000 times more energy from the sun every day than all seven billion of us consume. I am 100% convinced that we as a species can address the challenge of coming up with a way that harnesses 1/6000th of that energy.
If you haven’t yet done so, I urge you to check out (author/co-author of 50+ books on environmentalism) Lester R. Brown’s recounting of FDR’s approach to World War II, and how, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt mobilized damned close to 100% of the US manufacturing capacity to reassemble the sunken Navy, as well as build 60,000 planes and 45,000 tanks. When presented with the idea, the auto industry, which represented almost the entirety of this capability, was dutifully respectful (though they couldn’t understand how it was possible while they were still building cars). It all became clear when soon thereafter it became illegal to sell new cars in the United States.
The point? Our world needs to respond to this existential threat as we did to the Nazis in World War II.
Sorry to come off as cavalier, but a) I believe that through our combination of folly and avarice, we face the potential extinction of the world as we know it, but b) I don’t believe for a moment that we cannot address this with the technology at our disposal here and now.
Thus my point about EVs and the nexus with clean energy: I believe we need to move beyond liquid hydrocarbon fuels — and that it can be done.