So how’s it going with efforts to turn the auto industry into makers of primarily electric vehicles and getting drivers the world over out of their fossil-fuel cars and trucks? There are many moving parts to making such a huge change and to date it’s been a bit of a chicken and egg thing.

Manufacturers point to their bottom line that shows them that most car buyers want big cars and trucks and don’t generally view electric vehicles as something they want to see in their garage or driveway. So, which comes first, consumer demand or carmakers changing what they have on offer?

Well, to start off, several of the rationalizations for low uptake by the public now only linger as mythologies.

It used to be that skeptics pointed to “range anxiety” as a factor holding people back from purchasing an EV. Indeed, early models had very short ranges, maxing out at about 70 miles per complete charge. This barrier has been exploded, with several models of EV’s now exceeding 300 miles per charge. Still, the Nisssan Leaf, with a range of about 100 miles, is still one of the best selling EVs due to its lower price and the fact that it meets most people’s daily driving needs

It used to be that prospective buyers were concerned that there were not enough places where EV’s could be charged. Now, although not as ubiquitous as gas stations used to be in the old days when you might find four on the corners of an intersection, the charging network is very robust, and it is easy and inexpensive to install a charger in our own homes.

It used to be that EV’s compared poorly with gasoline vehicles in the time it takes to “refuel.” That is still partially true, especially if you are on a trip, but if you are charging at home overnight, it’s not such a big deal. You don’t need as powerful of a charger because you have all night to charge.

On the road, more powerful chargers can provide up to 200 miles of range in 20-30 minutes. The network of charging stations has grown substantially, with many rapid chargers along highways and easily located through apps.

It used to be that there were very few models of EVs to choose from on the mass market. Backing up for a second, there are three types of EVs.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs), such as the Prius, have a traditional gas-powered engine but with assistance from an electric motor that can effectively increase a vehicle’s miles per gallon. These cannot be recharged by plugging them in; the electricity comes from the operation of the vehicle through technologies such as regenerative braking.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs) have electric motors but also a gasoline backup should you run out of charge.

Lastly, Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs) operate solely on electricity.

In terms of models, one or more of these types of EVs are now commercially available in the U.S. from BMW, Chevrolet, Fiat, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Kia, Mercedes, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Porsche, Subaru, Tesla, Toyota, Volkswagen and Volvo. These can be sedans, SUVs, trucks, vans, taxis, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, racecars, military vehicles, locomotives, forklifts and planes. They can be very expensive or cost about the same or less than a comparable gasoline vehicle.

It used to be thought that only treehuggers or other early adopters were purchasing electric vehicles. Yet, due in large part to the changes described above, along with several countries and auto manufacturers committing to all-electric futures, there has been a huge increase in EVs on the roads of the world. But, accurately judging the overall impact of these increases depends on how the increases are measured.

Really, who knows how many vehicles there are in the world, but one estimate, by an Australian company that is tracking the shift to EV’s, is about 1.4 billion (with a “b”) cars, trucks and buses. EV sales have been “skyrocketing” globally, growing about 65-percent faster in 2019 than 2018. But — and it’s a huge but — while percentage increases year-over-year are impressive and getting more impressive each year, the numbers for EVs are, well, not so much. The global fleet of EVs is estimated at 5.6 million (with an “m”).

We have a long way to go, especially since the total number of vehicles is also growing. In the U.S., millions more cars are added to the fleet than are retired to junkyards each year. And China, with only 0.2 vehicles per person, compared to 0.8 for the U.S., is the fastest-growing market.

So, while the world appears primed to make the switch to electric vehicles, it’s a huge mountain to climb to actually bring this to reality. The sheer size of the existing pool of vehicles is so large, and the replacement rate so comparatively small, even with huge gains in sales of electric vehicles, the world will be stuck with billions, or hundreds of millions, of gas-guzzling, greenhouse-gas-spewing cars on the road for a very long time.

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis. This column appears the first and third Wednesday of each month. Please send comments to

Crossposted from the Davis Enterprise

Published online on March 4, 2020 | Printed in the March 4, 2020 edition on page A5