EVs may defy new technology adoption rules

diffusion-leafeditors-blog-entry3I suggested recently that the solar-charged driving and EV revolutions are stuck in first gear and, at least in terms of numbers, can’t really be considered revolutions – although the concept of solar-charged driving very definitely is revolutionary.

The main reasons for the comparatively slow adoption of EVs and solar-charged driving are cost and competition. The upfront costs of mainstream production EVs such as the Nissan LEAF and Chevy Volt are too high for most people even if plug-ins promise to deliver long-term savings. The same is true of home solar, though solar leasing, available in some places in the U.S., has managed to whisk away the problem of upfront costs for some people.

Although I was realistic in arguing that there will be no true EV and solar EV revolutions until upfront costs come down significantly and EV driving range at least doubles, I was also not being entirely fair.

New technologies expensive
When first introduced, pretty much every new technology, from the first televisions to personal computers to cell phones and DVD players — remember the early laser disc players? — has high, even exorbitant, costs of ownership that make it hard, even impossible for most average people to adopt that technology. Hence the importance and significance of early adopters, or those willing to take the leap at a new technology and with pockets deep enough to do so.

Check out this price list of somewhat random technological items:


Approximate Initial Cost

Mobile Phone


Apple MacIntosh


Home VCR


DVD Player


CD Player



Electric cars are no different in this way – though, they are significantly different in one extremely important sense: They are a huge ticket item. That is, they cost a lot more than even a $4,000 Motorola DynaTAC cell phone did back in the early 1980s, though clearly comparatively speaking they don’t come with such dramatic a cost premium. That is, unlike the DynaTAC, which cost 400 times more than today’s cheapest cell phones, EVs don’t cost 400 times more than gasoline vehicles.

EVs unique
Because EVs — like pretty much any new mainstream production automobile – are a big ticket item, quite possibly the biggest ticket many people will ever purchase (the only bigger ticket item many, but not all, people purchase is a house), what holds true for technologies such as the mobile phone, home VCR, etc. might not necessarily hold true for EVs.

imiev-plus-solar1The speed with which the so-called diffusion of innovations curve, which holds that new technologies are first adopted in small numbers by so-called innovators, then acquired by early adopters, also in small numbers, before large numbers of people finally adopt the technology, occurs might not be the same for EVs, or, for that matter, solar-charged EVs, as it was with mobile phones, VCRs, CD players, etc.

Another key difference between EVs and, say, mobile phones, is that they are arguably not as radically a new technology, at least on the surface. Before mobile phones, there was no way you could be virtually anywhere in the world and call someone virtually anywhere else in the world. You were literally tied down by a land line. In contrast, a gasoline car, like an EV has four wheels, will bring you to the same places as an EV, and, in fact, will bring you considerably farther on a “charge” than an EV such as a Nissan LEAF.

No radical advantage for EVs
That brings me to another key difference between, say, the emergence of the DVD, which offered clear and distinct advantages over videotape, most notably the ability to navigate content instantaneously and at will, and EVs and gasoline-powered vehicles: At least for now, EVs don’t offer any such radical advantage over gasoline cars. To be sure, some will argue, rightly so, that the ability to fuel an EV from home, including potentially via a home renewable energy fueling station such as solar rooftop PV, is a radical advantage.

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However, unless we suddenly see gas prices spike another $2 to $3 per gallon, it’s unlikely most Americans will see things this way for quite awhile to come.

Sure, things could change. But only if prices of EVs drop to levels at, or at least very near, prices of comparable gasoline vehicles and if those similarly priced EVs offer longer driving ranges of probably at least 150 to 200 miles on a charge.

All of this isn’t going to happen unless we can get enough early adopters to help push us into to the ‘early majority’ stage on the diffusion of innovations graph. This won’t necessarily be easy considering, once again, that EVs come at so much more of a big-ticket price than technologies such as the mobile phone, personal computers, home VCRs and LCD flat panel televisions.

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