Electric Cars: Like Washing Machines or Cell Phones?

Deloitte Consulting said Thursday that pure electric cars will represent less than 5 percent of the car market in 2020. That’s only halfway to the 10 percent mark that Nissan expects.

Deloitte’s Robert Hill said the adoption of electric cars will match the slow acceptance of 20th-century consumer breakthroughs like washing machines—not the fast embrace of more recent innovations like the cell phone.

It took the washing machine from 1930 until 1975 to go from 10 percent use in US homes to 70 percent. On the other hand, the same jump for cell phones merely took a decade.

Brand Awareness for Electric Cars

The slow rate of adoption is not Deloitte’s only warning for Nissan. The consulting firm said that auto buying is mostly about brand, and that consumers don’t think of the Nissan (or GM) brands when they think about electric cars.

A Deloitte survey found that 17 percent of consumers would prefer to buy an electric car from Toyota, 15 percent from Honda and 12 percent from Ford. GM’s Chevrolet brand was fourth at 8 percent, and Nissan was ninth at 4 percent. Deloitte says that Nissan and Chevy will have to spend more on marketing to educate the public about their electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt.

Deloitte estimates that Toyota and other automakers spent about $10 billion in the past decade promoting hybrid cars, which still make up less than 3 percent car sales in the US.

So, what do you think? Are EVs more like washing machines or cell phones?

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  • dhartman

    More like a fax machine!

    Expect ev’s to grow from 0-35% in 7 years.

  • Eric

    I think prices (oil and batteries) will be the biggest factor dictating how fast EVs are adopted. Long term oil prices are only going to go up and battery prices are going down. The second and third factors (I’m not sure of the order) will be battery technology to increase range and infrastructure. I think adoption will be slow like the washing machine for a while after the initial release of the Leaf and Focus Electric at first. However, once the three factors I mentioned come into play, which I think will be within about 5 years after the first mainstream EVs are sold, adoption will spike like cell phone sales.

  • Old Man Crowder

    Either way, I think it’s an odd comparison.

    Washing machines and cell phones were brought in to make our lives easier, more efficient. I’m not sure I see how electric cars will do that.

    Politics, disposable incomes, infrastructure and the state of technology were very different during the washing machine era and cell phone introductions — as they are/will be for electric car introductions. I’m sure there are a lot of products out there that have had a faster uptake recently than other products in history.

    Where do microwaves, VCRs and personal computers rank in terms of adoption rates?

  • ex-EV1 driver

    @Old Man Crowder,
    Expect to be surprised. You don’t realize what a hassle it is to have to go to the gas station until there’s another option. The increased performance of an EV (if manufacturers choose to allow it) can also be considered liberating from the whining and sluggishness of an ICE.
    I can talk until I’m blue in the face but the issue is that this is so revolutionary that you’ll all have to experience it to realize.
    Early predictions in the ’80’s by reputable marketing research firms listed a total world market for cellphones at about 100,000. Cellphones were too revolutionary. Early ones were big and bulky and expensive. It was just too hard for folks to conceive of why they would use a cellphone when one could always just use your desk phone or a payphone.
    The drop in battery pricse, of course, along with the buildout of infrastructure (convenience and fast-charge) will, of course be major drivers of the adoption rate.

  • BMW Driver

    This is an interesting question!

    Pros (for speeding the adoption of electric cars):
    * Concern for environment
    * Any gasoline price spike
    * Pep (aka torque)
    * Quietness
    * Cool new gadget factor

    * Not a new market space – we already have cars
    * Cars are expensive – it’s not like a small consumer electronic that cost tens or hundreds of dollars, so there’s just not a lot of turnover
    * Range anxiety
    * New-technology-o-phobes (aka folks who obsess over lithium batteries possibly igniting but are happy to drive a vehicle with a tank of explosive gasoline)
    * With all due respect to Tesla, our first “mainstream” electric car manufacturer, Nissan, does not have the best reputation for new car quality

    My conclusion is that adoption rates will fall somewhere between cell phones and washers.


  • Samie

    I agree with Eric

    What matters are the convenience factors:
    1. How to get 300-500 mile range? For extended trips.
    2. How do you get a full battery charged under 10 minutes?
    3. Will there be charging stations that are convenient for office workers, shoppers, apartment renters, or say those who go out to eat?
    4. Will EVs at some point be offered under 20k?
    5. How much cheaper will energy into the vehicle be, compared to petroleum?

    What can slowdown electric vehicles:
    1. Long-term stable/cheap petroleum supplies (No major spikes)
    2. Market monopoly/oligopoly. Only one manufacture dominates the early market or there are only a few choices in each segment to choose from.
    3. Blocking the incentive to improve batteries. Leasing/no option to buy batteries, only one or two battery manufactures for all EVs, and battery swapping schemes
    4. Safety Issues. Battery or EV recalls
    5. Car dealers. Bait and switch schemes from car dealers and the reluctance from them to sell electric vehicles due to smaller maintenance and repair profits.

  • dhc

    $10 billion promoting hybrid cars? Not in the US! Only in the last year have there been any ads fro hybrids.. Priuses were selling out for a long time, despite not having advertisements for years. If they were really marketed/advertised, you’d have a much higher market penetration. Every radio ad you hear will mention that hybrid models as EXCLUDED from the promotion they are advertising. If they really wanted to push the technology (like they push HP [a more or less useless statistic for most drivers], then you would have many more hybrids on the roads. But everytime there is a glut of cars that dealers must get rid of, they are never the hybrid models. That’s why the offers don’t apply to hybrids. Nor will they apply to electric cars, until they are produced in numbers that will result in a surplus.

  • nycsolar

    Most people don’t but cars because of the economics. Purchasing cars for many people is very emotional. they buy BMWs because they believe they are the “ultimate driving machine.” Buying a BMW never makes you more money than buying a Hyundai. Cars are often purchased because of the image they impart.. like clothes… People are attracted to the car because of styling… and perception amongst their peers. Many people won’t set foot in a Hyundai because of their image, but will pay 2-3x the price for a Mercedes… What features of the Mercedes are worth 2-3x the price? Will they ever pay you back, no? but we enjoy the feeling of status imparted by the brand name… the stupid little gimmicks that make you think it’s worth it. When does having 4 wheel drive ever save you a cent? Does it prevent accidents? no. It just means you are more likely to go out and drive when you shouldn’t. After all, 4 wheel drive doesn’t help you stop (it usually makes it harder to stop because of the extra mass). Anyway, economics is secondary when it comes to most people buying cars. It’s perceived image that’s important. market that way and you will sell cars. That’s why SUVs exist. perceived image advantage over mini-van.

  • TrasKY

    I don’t know how this relates to Hill’s assessment of the future of EV’s but his either his knowledge of washing machine history is quite sketchy – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Washing_machine#Washing_machine_milestones – or he has selectively and fairly randomly chosen a couple of dates and statistics from that history to make a point that isn’t supported upon closer inspection. Here is a selective fact that makes a different argument: In 1940 60% of houses wired for electricity were equipped with an electric washing machine. in that year about 80% of all homes were electrified, meaning about 50% of all homes had washing machines. So in the ten year period from 1930 to 1940 the percentage of homes using electric washing machines multiplied by 5. Also, in 1930, about 68% of homes in the US were electrified and that number remained unchanged until after 1935.

    Cell phones may have gone from 10% use to 70% use in a decade but a. these figures are fairly arbitrary and b. the concept of the phone was already established and the infrastructure entirely in place. the analogy is false, misleading and rested on misinformation.

    So while cell phones may have moved from 10% – 70% in a shorter time than washing machines,

  • TrasKY

    I should add this summary: In the decade from 1930 to 1940 washing machine use increased by 500%. in whatever decade it is that Hill is referring to regarding cell phones, there was a 600% increase. The former occurred during the great depression. The latter, if it included the Clinton years, included the greatest sustained economic expansion in the US in modern times. I’m not sure I see a big distinction here.

  • caffeinekid

    A depreciating asset one and all- from washing machine to EV. As far as speed of consumer acceptance, this can and will be manipulated in the most seemingly unrelated ways, though I doubt that currency inflation will be the most practical despite its huge success over the last 2 decades.

  • scolas

    Kind of a silly comparison IMHO. But I would not be surprised to see EV’s gain market share quicker than hybrids did. The Leaf, after the $7500 fed credit and $5,000 CA credit will end up costing less than the Prius we bought 7 yrs ago. My wife and I each have round trip commutes less than 70 miles, which should give a cushion even if the 100 mile range claim is too optimistic. I think plugging in every night, like a cell phone, is more convenient than stopping at gas stations (at least for those who don’t have to park on the street). I also think that there will be incentives for businesses to soon install recharging stations, similar to how they promote alternative work schedules, rideshare, vanpools etc, to comply with air quality regs so people may be able to charge at work or while shopping for free.

    The purchase of an EV seems a no brainer for a second car even before you throw in the added benefit of carpool lane access in some states, less maintenance costs (I didn’t need to change the Prius brakes until 85K), no oil changes, etc, and significantly cheaper to run. You also get to make a small difference to improve the air and stick it to BP.

  • ex-EV1 driver

    I think the biggest driver of the cellphone use increase and the inability of the marketing pundits to predict its success was the price. Initially, the costs were high – first cellphones cost ~$5000 each, airtime cost ~$2.00 per minute. Those who understood the technology realized the prices were exaggerated because of the infant market.
    Once the price dropped to where it was competitive with wireline, cellphone usage skyrocketed because of the convenience of it.
    I predict that plug-in vehicles will follow the same trajectory – if someone actually decides to make and sell them (other than Tesla and AC Propulsion). Unfortunately, the automobile business has a lot of artificial, government imposed, barriers to entry that could slow their deployment down because the costs are so high. Except for the FCC allocating frequency and the justice department forcing AT&T to break up into many, smaller companies – there weren’t too many regulations impeding cellphone system rollout.

  • Scott Z

    There is one other big reason to want an electric car. The maintenance is minuscule compared to a combustion engine. Take a moment and head over to Tesla’s web site. Look up the scheduled maintenance. I know most of us will never own a 100K car but the maintenance will not vary much. No Oil or filter. No transmission or its fluid. No air filter (well perhaps for an AC system). Also breaks last a lot longer. I can attest to that with my Prius. Regenerative breaking save your break pads a great deal. 70k and still on the originals. I can’t wait until I can afford an EV that fits my needs. The Leaf is close.

  • Little Kelly

    Hybrid cars save you money on gas and make the EARTH more efficient, more in its natural state. 😛

  • Anonymous

    Infrastructure is the biggest factor, followed by charge time, range then price.

    With over 19,000 cities and towns in the U.S. there’s A LOT of time and money that will need to be spent to come close to matching the current # of gas stations. That doesn’t include the businesses that decide to incorporate charging stations at their facilities. Remember these expenses have to be passed onto the consumer also. Oh I know, you can charge your car at home, but you’re not always going to be at home when you need to be charged and not every business you visit or work at will have charging stations either. So you will have to put up at least half to 3/4 the number of charging stations as you have gas stations.

  • rich guy

    When Walmart installs charging stations in their parking lots as a tool to keep people in their stores longer, THATS when EV demand will spike.

  • Witoon

    Warm climate and subsequent devastation would help acceleration for EV usage apart from the high price of fuel

  • Second Hand Cars

    Among all electric cars i like Tesla Roadster, this is the most well known electric car, it has top speed of 125mph