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Is 2018 Finally the Year of the Electric Car?

The International Energy Association expects 21.5 million electric vehicles to be traversing the world’s highways and byways by 2030.

Ever since Scottish inventor Robert Anderson invented the first crude electric carriage powered by non-rechargeable primary cells in the 1830s, the number of pure electric and hybrid vehicles on the road has been growing at a snail’s pace. Today, the Nissan LEAF, BMW i3, Tesla Model S, and Chevrolet Volt are a few of the models making waves on the electric car front, where limited battery life, a lack of charging stations, and short travel range have kept these cars from going “mainstream” in the U.S.

That could soon change. Driven in part by technological advancements (namely, improved batteries and battery life) and consumers who are more focused that ever on lessening their carbon footprint—all while saving a few bucks on gas—the electric car segment could experience one of its best years in 2018.

“In the U.S., 2018 will be the tipping point and most profound year in EV history,” Blink Charging’s Mike Calise told CleanTechnica. “We will have over one million cumulative EVs on the road sometime this year and 2018 will make a real impact on the overall auto market and go down in history as the ‘Year of the EV.’”

By the Numbers

A new report from the International Energy Agency’s (IEA) Global EV Outlook 2018 supports Calise’s predication, and paints a picture of an automotive segment that’s ripe for some real growth. Sales of new electric cars worldwide surpassed 1 million units in 2017, the IEA reports, representing a growth in new electric car sales of 54% compared with 2016. More than half of those cars were sold in China, where electric cars had a market share of 2.2% in 2017.

“Electric cars sold in the Chinese market more than doubled the amount delivered in the U.S., the second-largest electric car market globally,” the IEA reports, noting that the global stock of electric cars surpassed 3 million vehicles in 2017 (having previously crossed the 1 million threshold in 2015 and the 2 million mark in 2016).

The IEA expects global stock of EVs to grow to 13 million vehicles by 2020 and nearly 130 million vehicles by 2030. In the U.S., much of this growth will be driven by policies enacted by states like California and the rising costs of fossil fuels. Other key drivers include the increased prevalence of public charging outlets (of which there were 430,000 slow- and fast-chargers worldwide in 2017, according to the IEA).

“Most of the publicly accessible chargers are slow charging outlets,” the IEA reports, noting that chargers are important in urban environments due to land availability constraints, such as in densely populated Asian cities.

In addition, fast chargers are essential to increase the appeal of EVs by enabling long-distance travel. “This is a critical facet that the major markets such as China, the European Union, and the U.S. clearly have embraced in ramping up their ambition in defining targets for the number of installations and network density,” the IEA concludes.

Doing Their Part

Automakers are also doing their part in advancing the electric car trend. In June, for example, Honda and GM announced that they were working together to develop new lithium-ion batteries that charge faster and keep cars running longer than current offerings. Under the agreement, the companies will collaborate based on GM’s next generation battery system, with the intent for Honda to source the battery modules from GM. The collaboration will support each company’s respective and distinct vehicles, according to GM’s press release.

As EV manufacturing continues to pick up steam, and as more companies throw their hats in the electric car ring, there will be an increased demand for some materials used to make the vehicles. In particular, procurement teams should keep an eye on the “rapid ramp-up in the demand of cobalt and lithium,” both of which may pose some risks, the IEA says.

“The supply of cobalt is especially critical due to the concentration of mining and refining facilities in a handful of countries,” the agency reports, noting that ongoing developments in battery chemistry aim to reduce their cobalt content (battery chemistry with less cobalt can achieve higher energy and power densities, but also tend to have lower thermal stability).

“Enabling a smooth transition to electric mobility requires ensuring a stable supply of cobalt at moderate prices,” the organization concludes. “Uncertainties about the future growth of cobalt demand, together with low volumes of historic global cobalt demand (in comparison to other materials), led to price surges in recent years.”

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