Emerging Technologies

Electric vehicles should overtake traditional sales in just 20 years

A plug is seen coming from the Chevrolet Volt electric car during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Michigan January 13, 2009.      REUTERS/Mark Blinch (UNITED STATES) - GF2E51D1E6H01

An EV flood? Image: REUTERS/Mark Blinch

Jeff Desjardins
Founder and editor, Visual Capitalist
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Automotive and New Mobility

It’s easy to dismiss exponential growth at its earliest stages.

That’s because at the beginning of such a phenomenon, the quantities involved can seem insignificant. One becomes two, two becomes four, and so on.

But if the environment is right, and the growth continues on, it can all of a sudden take over. This growth can lead to a paradigm shift and a new status quo, as well as massive opportunities along the way.

The water droplet analogy

One famous example of exponential growth is the water droplet and stadium analogy.

Imagine a giant football stadium, and you are sitting in the very highest seat. You can see the whole field.

In the middle of the stadium, there are drops of water falling at an increasing rate. In the first minute a single drop of water falls, in the second minute there are two drops of water added, and in the third minute, there are four drops of water, and so on. The rate doubles each minute.

When do you think the stadium is full of water? Does it take hours, days, or weeks?

For the first 30 minutes, not much seems to happen – there is a growing puddle, but it’s not likely something you can see from the very top seat. After 45 minutes the stadium is still 93% empty – but by 49 minutes, the entire stadium is full of water (and you’re swimming)!

The electric vehicle market

Today’s infographic comes to us from Raconteur, and it helps visualize anticipated growth in the electric vehicle market – a segment that sits at 1-2% of total vehicle sales currently.

Using projections from Morgan Stanley, it shows that electric vehicle sales are expected to surpass those of traditional vehicles by 2038, while the global fleet of EVs is expected to surpass one billion by 2047.

Meanwhile, the transition to electric will be a game-changer for carmakers. Morgan Stanley’s analysis sees the average profitability of combustion engine models falling through the early 2020s, eventually turning to a loss per unit by 2028.

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On the flipside, negative profit margins for electric vehicles will peak in 2023 as production continues to ramp, and EV making will switch to a profitable business by 2029.

An EV flood?

Will we wake up one morning with the auto market being flooded with new EVs, like in the aforementioned water drop analogy?

Certainly not. Manufacturing processes are notoriously difficult to scale, and we still need to source the raw materials needed to fuel the green revolution.

However, the speed of the transition to electric vehicles will still be surprising to many detractors – and for now, barring an unexpected drop in the price of oil to below $30/bbl, there doesn’t seem to be any obstacle that will slow the adoption of EVs.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

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