Electric Vehicle - The Switch

The single question that does not get answered on the web when talking about an electric vehicle, and a question that I get asked a lot when I talk about to people, is: “When it the moment to buy an electric vehicle?”. The people asking these questions are also convinced that the electric car is only a matter of time and they see a perfectly sustainable solution, but when is the right time to purchase one?

Of course people are buying them already, even though the numbers are nowhere near the amount of internal combustion engine cars. These people are the early adopters and they purchase a vehicle either because they like the gadget aspect of it, while others are only interested in the environmental aspect of the cars. They both pay a premium at the moment; the current range of electric vehicles is still a bit too pricy for most of us.

When do you switch to electric?

If you buy too early, you pay too much. But what if you buy too late? If you get on the boat too late, you might be stuck with a nice piece for the museum if you want to trade in your gas guzzler, or it might just be a large chunk of scrap metal. Either way is not an attractive to look forward to.

So too early is too expensive, too late will leave you with a hard to sell car. While it is hard to pinpoint the exact moment which is the best moment to make the switch, since it is very dependant on your personal situation and mobility needs. It is possible to at least describe the forces at work that have an influence on this moment.

The first is the price of an electric vehicle. Truly a no-brainer, currently they are expensive and when more of them will be manufactured, the price will go down. A cheaper electric car means it gets more attractive to switch. The impact on cheaper prices is partly in the amount of cars being produced, but also in the price for battery technology.

The second important factor is the oil price. When the price of oil is low, it is less necessary to switch to electric. When the price for your gas goes up on the other hand, it becomes quite attractive to fuel up with electricity instead of gas. Currently the oil market is quite volatile again, impacted by supply and demand, but also some of the unrest in the world creating doubts if demand can be met. A dampening effect on the oil price is when more and more people would switch over to electric, that would lower demand and therefore (temporarily) lower the prices. An interesting discussion, but perhaps best left for another time.

The third important factor would be the technical developments; both on the vehicle and the charging infrastructure. Currently you can drive about 160km (100 miles) on a single charge and have to wait for either half an hour to eight hours (depending on charging level) before you can continue. There are huge investments being made to increase the range of a vehicle, with lighter materials and better batteries. Also a lot of effort and money is put into charging infrastructure. On one hand there is a (psychological) need for more infrastructure, but there is also a (psychological?) need for quicker charging infrastructure. Why psychological? From the city of Tokyo I learnt that initially there was not a lot of charging infrastructure present, which was listed as the main reason people would not buy an electric vehicle. When the infrastructure was present and installed, a lot of people went off to buy an EV, but the strange thing is; the charging infrastructure was not used significantly more. How come? Well, people still tend to charge up at home most of the time; hence a ‘psychological’ need for charging infrastructure. It does not take away the fact that some people actually do travel a lot farther and have a significant need for this infrastructure.

To wrap this up, the three forces that play the biggest role in determining the moment to switch are the price of EVs, the price of fuel (or simply: the alternative to EVs) and the technological progress that is still to come. A lot of people are convinced already they are coming, they just don’t want to be an early adopter and pay the premium, but they also don’t want to be stuck with a too expensive gas guzzler for the museum.