Battery Electric Vehicle Sales

Battery Electric VehiclesEdit

BEVs are fully-electric, highway-capable vehicles with rechargeable on-board batteries. Unlike plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV), or "hybrids," they do not have any built in gasoline engine. While the basic technology has been around for over a century, it experienced a long decline after being outcompeted by gasoline cars. Only over the past 10 years have modern BEV’s come into their own and experienced wider adoptions. Since the story of growth of the electric car is also the story of the passenger vehicle, both will be discussed to have the full picture.


The technology that eventually built the automobile came from engine technology used for streetcars, locomotives and bikes. During the mid 19th century, early steam engines were adapted from railroad technology for use in agriculture via the self-propelled steam tractor. In 1851, Charles Page built an electric locomotive became a prototype for electric streetcars. Lagging somewhat behind developments in Europe, the American automobile industry began to form rapidly in the 1890’s as a means to replace horse-drawn buggies, carriages and wagons. Around this time most motor vehicles were using either gas, steam or electric engines were in some kind of prototype form. It wasn’t until 1896 that there was more than one car of the same design. [1]

Initially it seemed that steam and electrical engines were the farthest along. In 1899, 1,575 electric vehicles, 1,681 steam cars—the most popular of which was the “locomobile”—and only 936 gasoline cars were sold. Gasoline cars were noisy, difficult to start, had a short range, speed and consumed lots of water. The electric car had an early advantage on all of these. Electric engines were cleaner than its competitors and did not require the arduous hand crank to start, like the gasoline engine, or a long warm up time like the steam engine. Electric vehicles were also initially faster, as was demonstrated by the successful “La Jamais Contente,” which could run up to speeds of 100km/h. Electric vehicles had the initial advantage of using similar technologies and manufacturers employed with streetcars. [2]

Ultimately, inventions in the gasoline engine helped reduce water leakage, increase range and speed. After these fixes at the turn of the century, the electric car had began losing the battle due to its high cost and stagnant range—problems that have plagued the technology to this day.

Gas powered cars, mostly pushed by Ford Motors, focused on mass production and lowered costs from the start. In 1900, electric vehicles ranged from $1,250 to $3,500 whereas gasoline cars at most cost $2000. In 1902 the $650 Oldsmobile Curved Dash was introduced. Mass production was a strategic choice made by the gasoline car industry, a contrast to the electric vehicle companies that were more interested in selling well-made cars at a higher price point. [3]

Even more, electric cars required a costly battery replacement at least once a year. As it happened, the batteries used for electric streetcars did not translate well to vehicles. Progress on battery capacity was steady. By 1910 the batteries were used up to 25 w-h/kg and would allow a range of up to 130 km. But this was too little too late—they still relied on an electricity delivery infrastructure that was found only around large cities on the east coast. While gasoline cars could bring backup fuel for the ride, electric cars confined to the city. Progress on battery capacity largely came to halt after the invention of the starting ignition in gasoline cars.

By the 1920’s, electric vehicles had essentially stalled as gasoline powered cars gained a complete lock on the passenger vehicle market. In 1924, only 381 electric vehicles were produced in the US compared to 3,185,490 gasoline cars. Gas powered vehicles went on to shape whole societal structures and development trends for the next fifty years. [4]

It wasn’t until the 1970’s that public confidence turned against the car. With the environmental movement came a greater awareness of the problem that air pollution was causing. The oil crisis of 1973 prompted congress to rethink national dependence on gas-powered transport systems. In 1976, the US Senate authorized the Energy Research and Development Association for the purpose of developing batteries and for electric and hybrid vehicles. [5]

Despite support from programs at General motors and NASA, many of the drawbacks related to range and speed. ERDA was shut down in the 1980’s and public interest in electric vehicles once again passed, with the R&D initiative of the 1970’s having produced little technological breakthroughs. Throughout the 1980’s, electric vehicles were mostly used as golf carts and delivery vans in the United Kingdom.

In 1990, passage of the Clean Air Act amendment and the Energy Policy Act, followed by the California Air Resources Board that mandates for zero emissions vehicles, once again gave federal incentive to develop electric vehicles. Producing no VOCs, CO, NOx, PM or Sox was the General Motors EV1, an entirely battery operated electric vehicle. While the EV1 didn’t stay on the market for long, and the CARB mandates were ultimately dropped after a lawsuit from automakers, it marked a dramatic evolution in the battery technology, with a record 80 mile range between battery charges.

In 1997, Toyota leveraged US Department of Energy R&D technology to release the Prius, which was distributed worldwide by 2000. As the first mass produced, commercial hybrid, it helped raise the profile of what the electric car could be. In 2006, on a loan from the Department of Energy, a startup called Tesla Motors started production on a luxury electric car that utilized cutting edge battery technology. Tesla's advances preceded entry into the BEV market by more established automakers like Nissan, Chevy, Ford, Mitsubishi, BMW and others.

Through the Recovery Act of 2009, the US Department of Energy spent over $100 partnering with automakers to build out the network of EV charging stations.

At this point there are more than 234,000 plug-in electric vehicles and 3.3 million hybrids on the road in the US. Presently the Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S and MBW i3 occupy the top spot as the world highest selling all-electric cars. [6]

The Beginning The First Age Boom & Bust Second Age Third Age
1897: NYC taxi fleet converted to electric motors 1908: Ford Model T goes to market 1973: OPEC oil embargo leads to multinational EV R&D efforts 2010: Nissan LEAF is launched, wins European Car of the Year.
1832: Robert Anderson builds prototype electric carriage 1899: La Jamais Contente breaks passenger vehicle speed record at 100km/hr 1912: Charles Kettering invents the electric starter 1996: General Motors creates the EV1 2011: Over 50,000 EV's globally
1834: Thomas Davenport creates a DC motor car that runs on tracks 1900: EV's are the top selling vehicle in the US 1930: EV's are all but outcompeted by ICE cars 1997: Toyota begins sale of the Prius 2012: Over 180,000 EV's globally [7][8]


Using data from the Energy Information Agency[9]., the US Department of Energy and the Electric Drive Transportation Association)[10]., it's clear that there's been a growth in BEV adoption in the US since 1992. Of particular notice is the rapid climb since 2010 in Figure 1. RD&D on batteries, fuel cells, and vehicle systems has lowered the cost and made EV's competitive on the mass market with ICE vehicles. Evident in the Table 1, more options for BEVs have been introduced to the global marketplace in the past few years than ever before.

Vehicle Period of Manufacture
Baker Motor Vehicle 1899–1915
Studebaker Electric 1907–1939
Henney Kilowatt 1958–1960
Sebring-Vanguard Citicar 1974–1982
Škoda Favorit 1992–1994
General Motors EV1 1996–2003
Chevrolet S10 EV 1997–1998
Honda EV Plus 1997–1999
Toyota RAV4 EV 1997–2002
Ford Ranger EV 1998–2002
Think Nordic 1999–2002
ZAP Xebra 2006–2009
Tesla Roadster 2008–2012
Mitsubishi i MiEV 2009–Present
Nissan Leaf 2010–Present
Renault Kangoo 2011–Present
Smart ED 2012-Present
Tesla Model S 2012-Present
Renault Zoe 2013–Present
Volkswagen e-Up! 2013-Present
BMW i3 2013–Present
Kia Soul EV 2014-Present
Volkswagen e-Golf 2014-Present
Mercedes-Benz B-Class EV 2014-Present
Volkswagen e-Up! 2013-Present
Tesla Model X 2015-Present

Potential MaturityEdit

  1. Garrison, W., & Levinson, D. (2014). The Transportation Experience. New York: Oxford University Press
  2. Cowan, R., & Hulten, S. (1996). Escaping Lock-In: The Case of the Electric Vehicle. New York: Elsevier Science, Inc.
  3. Cowan, R., & Hulten, S. (1996). Escaping Lock-In: The Case of the Electric Vehicle. New York: Elsevier Science, Inc.
  4. Cowan, R., & Hulten, S. (1996). Escaping Lock-In: The Case of the Electric Vehicle. New York: Elsevier Science, Inc.
  5.,. The History Of The Electric Car (2015)
  6.,. The History Of The Electric Car (2015)
  7. International Energy Agency, Global EV Outlook (2013)
  8.,. 'Timeline: History Of The Electric Car. PBS. (2009)
  9. Historical Data: Alternative Transportation Fuels (ATF) and Alternative Fueld Vehicles (AFV). (2002). Retrieved from Energy Information Administration: Official Energy Statistics from the U.S. Government:
  10. Electric Drive Vehicle Sales Figures (U.S. Market) - EV sales. (2013, October). Retrieved from Electric Drive Transportation Association: