Do projections for future plug-in vehicle sales mean anything?
Hindsight is 20/20, as the saying goes. Yet foresight is rarely more than a clouded, distant picture, especially when it comes to the electric vehicle industry. Just ask General Motors or Nissan – it is all too easy to overestimate sales of plug-in electric vehicles, and even nearly four years after the launch of the Chevrolet Volt and Nissan LEAF it remains difficult to determine how quickly the general public will adopt electric cars.
Which begs the question: are mid- to long-term future projections of electric vehicle sales worth paying attention to, particularly when even short-term sales predictions can be unreliable?
InsideEVs drew our attention to a Navigant Research report, one of many on the subject of hybrid and plug-in vehicles, that proclaimed plug-in electric vehicle sales would exceed 514,000 units annually in the United States in 2023.
The geographic forecast projected that the U.S. will remain the largest market for plug-ins for the next decade, and in that time the global market will show a compound annual growth rate of 24.6% against just 2.6% for the wider auto industry.
Numbers can lie, if they are not the right numbers
This, of course, is not the only mid- to long-term projection of electric vehicle sales out there. Far from it, in fact: such a wide array of estimates exists over various time periods, from many different research organizations, government agencies, think tanks, etc., that it seems almost pointless to put any stock in them.
It should be noted here that Navigant Research is a highly respected group, and the report in question is mainly for the benefit of stakeholders in the current and future electric vehicle industry. And Navigant doubtless are aware of the limitations of such projections that are often based on as much assumption as fact.
514,000 annual sales of plug-in vehicles in the U.S. in 2023 seems like a reasonable total (notwithstanding the fact that the precision of the number is a bit ambitious), but any number of factors could throw it off dramatically.
The variables involved are formidable: oil prices and global stability, particularly in the Middle East; cost of batteries, future “Gigafactories,” and any potential radical advancements made in the next decade; shifting consumer preferences, public initiative toward mitigating climate change, etc.; subsidies and their likely expiration before 2023; the ability of electricity grids to handle the increased EV uptake; potential emergence of rival technologies; the list goes on.
So would it be useful to have a general idea of how many plug-in vehicles may be on the road ten years from now? Sure. But it is difficult to have much confidence in the accuracy of any such projection.