Transportation Deployment Casebook/2018/Electric Vehicles in the US

Overview of the Electric VehicleEdit

Electric vehicles are a type of automobile transport where power is generated by electric motors using energy stored in rechargeable batteries. The distinction must be made between the various types of electric vehicles and the classification of these types.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs) refer to vehicles which are powered by both petrol and electricity, where the electric energy is generated only from the cars own braking system and not an external source, also known as regenerative braking.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) are also powered by both petrol and electricity, but can also recharge the battery through plugging in to an external power source such as an outlet. The petrol engine of PHEVs is used to extend the range of the car by recharging the battery as it depletes

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) are fully electric vehicles which are powered only by electricity and do not have a petrol engine, fuel tank or exhaust. BEVs are also known as plug-in electric vehicles or PEVs as they use an external power source to recharge the battery. BEVs will be the subject of this page.

Advantages of the Electric Vehicle

Electric cars are high performance vehicles whose motors react responsively and deliver significant torque while running quietly and smoothly. Like a smartphone, electric vehicles are digitally connected and most users can simply charge at home overnight via an app. This gives electric vehicles a futuristic appeal to consumers. Other performance features of electric cars include increased safety: electric vehicles have a lower centre of gravity that makes them less likely to roll in an accident, as well as a lower risk for major fires or explosions while providing an improved body construction and durability, making them overall safer in a collision [1]

Energy efficiency relates to the amount of energy from a fuel source that is converted into actual energy powering a vehicle. Electric vehicles are far more energy efficient than conventional gas-powered vehicles; converting around 60% of energy into movement compared to around 20% for gas-powered vehicles [2]. They are also cheaper to run, as the electricity to charge a vehicle is three to four times cheaper per kilometre as buying petrol for the same vehicle [3]. They also incur lower maintenance costs than gasoline powered cars; they do not require oil to lubricate the engine which has less moving parts and thus experiences less cyclical fatigue.

A major appeal of electric vehicles is they have zero emissions due to their lack of tailpipe and exhaust, which are a major source of air pollution worldwide. Furthermore, the use of electricity decreases the overall economic reliance on ‘fossil fuels’ and promote the use of renewable sources such as solar. These benefits alone are often enough to drive many consumers to choose electric of gasoline, as they feel they are making a contribution to a sustainable future.

History of the TechnologyEdit

Technologically, the electric car is essentially a combination of two types of technology which have been prevalent in society for the past century; the electric battery and automobiles.

The Electric Battery

The invention of the modern electric battery is widely-credited to Alessandro Volta. His creation of the voltaic pile, a stack of alternating zinc and silver discs separated by brine, was a reaction to the work of Luigi Galvani, who showed that a frog’s legs could be made to twitch when probed with metal. Volta was sceptical of what Galvani referred to as ‘animal electricity’ and set out to prove that the phenomenon was merely a reaction to the presence of two dissimilar types of metal. In doing so, Volta created the first modern battery in 1800, which was a huge success [4]. However, this battery was extremely rudimentary, and the technology would not be widely applied to automobile transport until almost a century later.

The History of the Automobile

The history of the automobile is often divided into a number of eras based on the means of propulsion. The first cars capable of human transportation were steam-powered, dating back to the late 18th century. Technological advances later led to the creation of the internal gasoline combustion engine and electric motor, which were developed almost concurrently in the mid to late 19th century. Prior to the automobile, the main forms of land transportation were either by train or horse-drawn wagon.

Initial Birth and Growth

By the turn of the 20th century, the three types: steam, gasoline and electric, were competing for an emergent market. All three types had distinguishing features. Steam, a tried and true technology by that time, had proved itself reliable for trains but required long start up times and needed to be refuelled often. Gasoline required a large amount of manual effort to drive and were noisy and unpleasant. The electric car seemed to have the advantage over its competitors: it was easy to start and simple to operate, requiring no transmission; it offered the smoothest and quietest ride. It was perfect for short trips around the city; poor road conditions meant few cars of any types could drive long distances outside the city [5]. Electric cars outsold all other types of cars from 1899 to 1900. [6].


Despite these advantages, a number of key developments eventually caused the decline of the ‘Golden Age’ of the electric car from 1900-1910, and the subsequent rise of the gasoline car [7]. Smoother, longer road networks in the US meant that the short range of electric cars became a significant disadvantage compared to gasoline vehicles, while features such as the muffler and electric start made them more accessible. The price of gasoline dropped worldwide. The initiation of mass production of gas-powered vehicles by Henry Ford meant that, by 1912, an electric roadster sold for $1750 while a gasoline car sold for $650 [8]. It was the ability of gasoline car manufacturers to rapidly find solutions to technical faults and adapt to the market better than their competitors in the steam and electric field that allowed them to gain dominance. the As a result, electric cars were almost extinct by 1935.

As the electric car market faded into obscurity, the gasoline powered car enjoyed a period of complete dominance in the market for around 50 years from 1920 to 1973. A linked networks of petrol stations, mechanics and dealerships grew to accompany the gasoline automobile market. These networks became stable, extensive and strong and created a series of positive externalities through which the gasoline car technology became ‘locked-in’; the position of the gasoline car was entrenched in the system and in society. The result of this was an unparalleled influence on society as a whole: how far people lived, how they spent their leisure time, how far they could commute. Within this era, the automobile quickly became a symbol of both freedom and status. [9].


The revival of the electric vehicle in the late 20th and early 21st century can be attributed to a combination of policy, technology and environmental concerns. Rising oil prices and gasoline shortages in the 1970s caused the US to try and decrease its reliance on foreign oil by promoting research and development through policies such as the Electric and Hybrid Vehicle Research, Development, and Demonstration Act of 1976 [10]. Increasing environmental concerns in the 1990s also played a role in the re-emergence of electric vehicles, through policies such as the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment and the 1992 Energy Policy Act, along with new transportation emissions regulations issued by the California Air Resource Board (CARB). However, at this time, the mode was still somewhat constrained by technology; electric cars still had limited range, and a booming economy with low gas prices in the 1990s meant that interest in electric vehicles was still mainly confined to research and development. The turning point for the modern electric vehicle came in the form of the Toyota Prius in 2000. It was the world’s first mass-produced hybrid electric vehicle and became a success worldwide. This was followed by the 2006 announcement that Tesla Motors would start producing a luxury all-electric sports car that could travel more than 200 miles on a single charge, spurring on competitors such as Nissan and Chevy to release their own electric vehicles [11].

Policy and GrowthEdit

Despite the growing popularity of the modern electric automobile over the past two decades, there are still considerable obstacles to overcoming the ‘lock-in’ of the dominant market technology: the gasoline car. It is highly dependent on the policy environment, which needs to bolster nascent markets, facilitate consumer ownership and use, reduce risk for investors, encourage manufacturers and boost public confidence in electrified transportation options. At this stage, barriers such as affordability, battery longevity, public charging availability, vehicle-grid compatibility, system reliability and consumer acceptability are unlikely to be overcome without policy action [12]. Policy support mechanisms for electric vehicles can be grouped into four main categories: research support; targets, mandates and regulations; financial incentives; and policies for increasing the value proposition of electric cars.

China, the current world leader in electric vehicles, has taken on aggressive actions to encourage electric vehicle purchases. For example, electric vehicles were exempt from purchase taxes from 2014 to 2017 and the government has renewed the exemption through 2020. In addition, the central government has initiated a consumer subsidy program. Apart from financial incentives, policies such as high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane exemptions and expedited license plate acquisitions have been offered. Electric vehicle drivers in some Chinese provinces and cities can get their license plates without paying the typical fees: Shanghai has waived electric vehicle drivers’ license plate fee, which is about RMB 100 thousand ($15,900). Such incentives are especially attractive to consumers in China. Government procurement of electric vehicles is also a major policy adopted by China. In 2014, China required that the central government, as well as some cities and public organizations, should have at least 30 percent of their vehicle fleet consist of electric vehicles by 2016. In 2016, this goal was increased to at least 50 percent [13].

Quantitative AnalysisEdit

For quantitative analysis, the market growth of electric vehicles will be analysed by looking at the number of sales of electric vehicles by year. Note that this data relates to PEVs which includes PHEVs. Data was only found to exist from 2010 onwards as plug-in electric vehicles certified for highway use began selling in 2010, according to the Transportation Energy Data Book Edition 36.1 [14]. The data was used to estimate a three-parameter logistic function in the form: S(t) = K/[1+exp(-b(t-t0)] where:

• S(t) is the status measure, (Number of Cars Sold) • t is time (in years), • t0 is the inflection time (year in which 1/2 K is achieved), • K is saturation status level, • b is a coefficient.

The saturation status level K is estimated using the figure for all light vehicle sales in 2017, equal to around 17 million. An Ordinary Least Squares Regression method was used to estimate the coefficient b, where Y=LN(Sales/(K-Sales)) and X=Year.

PEV Sales in the US with Projected Growth

Using this analysis, it was found that t0, or the year that electric vehicles will achieve 50% market saturation, is 2022. This is a remarkably low figure, and seems to be wildly inaccurate at this point, given that in 2017 electric vehicles only reached 1.2% saturation. The reason for this discrepancy can be attributed to the method of analysis; the RSQ value achieved was only 0.64, indicating the curve does not fit well.

Despite this, it is clear that the electric vehicle is now in the growth phase and expanding rapidly. The life cycle of the electric vehicle is unique, in that it experienced multiple birth and growth phases more than a century apart. The growth experienced in the past few years, however, is substantial. This is due to technological advances improving the range capacity of electric vehicles and the increased public awareness of renewables and air pollution. With the help of policy, the electric vehicle should see sustained growth over the coming years.


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