Electric Vehicle: Status and Future


Transportation sector account for roughly 25% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions worldwide (IEA),  and automobile is the dominant source of the emissions in this sector. Electric vehicles (EV) could play a major part in reducing the emissions, especially when powered by clean electricity. In fact, according the study by Japan Automobile Research Institute, EVs' well-to-wheel GHG emissions, which accounts for both tailpipe emissions and emissions associated with the power source such as electricity generation and fuel extraction, is only about a third of conventional gasoline-based cars (ICEV).

Well-to-Wheel GHG Emissions by Vehicle Type
(Source: Japan Automobile Research Institute)

Many nations have high expectations of EVs in curbing their emissions and energy use, and Japan's government in particular has ambitious goal to make EVs' share in new LDV vehicle sales roughly half by 2030. Combined with other vehicles such as hybrid and fuel cell vehicles, the introduction of EVs is expected to cut the GHG emissions in Japan's transportation sector by 35% in 2030, and by 57% in 2050 relative to the 2010 levels.

Forecasted New LDV Sales by Vehicle Type
(Source: Japan's Ministry of the Environment)


There is a number of obstacles to large-scale deployment of EVs, however. EVs’ primary disadvantage is its limited ranges. Despite the fact that Nissan Leaf's range is sufficient to cover daily vehicle distance traveled by most drivers, the perceived reduction in mobility compared to ICEVs creates a psychological obstacle to widespread adoption. 

At the same time, while Nissan made a major price cut for Leaf this spring, its costs remains high relative to similar ICEVs. While the savings in fuel costs should cover the price differences, average consumers are much more sensitive the one-time initial costs than day-to-day running costs. Infrastructure is also noted as a major issue, but when considering EVs are mostly recharged at home and office, the issue may not be as important as it seems.

Sales Trend

So, how many EVs have been actually sold so far? Major media outlets report that EVs are nearly doomed as the sales targets set by the manufactures are far from being met. As of Dec 2012, 28,000 EVs were sold in Japan since July 2009, but they account for less than 1% in new LDV market sales.

Despite these facts, I would argue that it is too early to conclude that EVs are complete failure and automakers should move on to other types of vehicles such as fuel cell vehicles (FCV). When comparing the sales of Toyota Prius and Nissan Leaf in Japan, it is apparent that Leaf is closely trailing the Prius's sales pattern after the initial roll-out, as shown below.

Prius and Leaf Sales in Japan
(Source: Japan Automotive Products Association and Toyota Motors)

Looking at the global sales, Leaf has also outperformed Prius on most months since its roll-out, and plug-in electric hybrid vehicles (PHEV) have shown similar performance. These instances suggest that while it is true that EVs have been unable to meet the high expectations, the sales trend has been robust relative to Prius, and it's entirely possible for EVs to duplicate the success of hybrid vehicles in 5 to 10 years.

Prius and EVs Sales Worldwide

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