Carmageddon is Coming
Angus Hervey

Not so fast.

Literally, it can’t happen that fast. EVs can’t be produced fast enough to meet the author’s prediction, and the in-use fleet of internal combustion engine vehicles can’t be replaced on that timetable, either.

Elon Musk says that once EVs represent over half of vehicle sales, it will take fifteen to twenty years before EVs represent over half of the in-use vehicular fleet. The same dynamic is at work with autonomous vehicles. Even if *every* make and model is autonomous by a given date — say, 2025 — autonomous vehicles won’t make up the majority of the in-use fleet for another fifteen to twenty years. We’ll get there. But it won’t be as quick as the author suggests.

And there’s another fly in the ointment. The author is correct to point out that maintenance costs are lower for EVs — except for one thing. The battery. Current Lithium-ion batteries have a limited life cycle. And it’s still pricey to replace it. Better, more durable battery chemistries are probably on the way, but we are unsure as to when they’ll supplant L-ion batteries. Maybe in the 2020's? Nobody really knows. Until those better chemistries arrive, EVs are somewhat less practical for long-distance driving and will have some expensive maintenance to consider.

Then there’s simple inertia. People who are used to controlling their own vehicles may be disinclined to wait to be serviced by an on-demand autonomous vehicle. Where people live will be a factor; in a city where parking is difficult, on-demand transportation is already a big factor in the market (taxis, Uber). But in suburbia and rural areas, where waiting time to obtain on-demand service will be larger simply due to distances and lower population densities, the change-over to on-demand vehicles will be slow, indeed.

Speaking of Musk, his production plans are ambitious. Still, it’ll be a couple of years — if he hits his production targets — before he can produce a half-million EVs per year. No-one else is anywhere close to matching him in production rates, either. No-one else has sourced batteries on the scale necessary. Lots of manufacturers have EVs in the works. None, besides Tesla, have the batteries sourced to scale up to meaningful numbers. What this means is that EVs will be a niche market for many years to come, and that most production in the near-to-mid term will be internal combustion engine vehicles.

Change will happen. But the changeover period will not be as sudden as the author suggests. He thinks we’ll hit a phase change in the 20’s. I think we’ll see a more gradual shift culminating sometime in the 2050’s in a mostly-EV, mostly-autonomous world.

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