We're at the Tipping Point of Electrification
Innovation & Tech Today|Fall 2021
Everything is Going to Change — the Only Question is How Quickly
Michael Coates

We’ve just been through (or maybe are still going through) an pandemic, which was started by a single infected person and spread worldwide. The tipping point, as identified by author Malcolm Gladwell, is that “magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior” (or disease) passes from being an isolated phenomenon to reach a critical mass and spreads “like wildfire.”

Our premise here: this is where we’re at with electric vehicle adoption. It’s clearly started, but is at a limited threshold of acceptance — stronger in areas like China, Norway, and California, but barely noticed elsewhere or in many broader markets. We’ll focus on the U.S. market, where we believe this tipping point is about to take hold.

“That is the paradox of the epidemic: that in order to create one contagious movement, you often have to create many small movements first.” — Gladwell, The Tipping Point.

Modern electric vehicles have only been around in volume production for a little more than a decade, ushered in by the first-generation Nissan Leaf and Chevrolet’s plug-in hybrid Volt. The market during the intervening years has grown steadily, but took a solid jump in the U.S. and around the world with the introduction of the “affordable” Tesla Model 3. EV sales represent around 2% of the overall American market and almost five times that in California.

Choice Explodes & the Market Will Follow

As Gladwell pointed out, the path to a tipping point often comes with multiple smaller movements in the same direction. The Model 3 explosion of popularity (it was the seventh bestselling car overall in the U.S. in the last quarter of 2019), the ongoing popularity of EVs in other markets (EU and China), and the coming explosion of available models are some of those smaller movements. A wild card that plays into this equation is the growing influence of the belief that we are in a climate crisis and should do everything we can to reduce our individual and collective greenhouse gas footprint.

The indicators of the coming tipping point show up in market research reported by Cox Automotive, a provider of services to automobile dealers. Pickup trucks are the most popular vehicles in the American market, routinely holding down the top spots in sales. The conventional wisdom of a half-decade ago said pickups would be late to the EV market (if they ever entered it), but announced automaker products and Cox’s research say otherwise.

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