Electric car: no future within the free-market economy?

Publication Type:

Conference Paper


Gerpisa colloquium, Paris (2015)


Electric vehicle (EV), market, public policies, Technological Innovation, zero emission


After nearly forty three years of research on the electric vehicle worldwide, it is still a questionable and highly challenged technology for private transportation.

If positive social and political support can be easily identified, key obstacles to massive dissemination are of technological, economic and commercial nature.

The selection of technological alternatives is still to be done according to criteria which are dealing simultaneously with scientific and technical performances, industrial feasibility and minimal customer expectations. Many experts point the inherent weakness of the full battery electric vehicle which might make this option insuperable or at least non sustainable in the long run when comparing to the existing internal combustion engine. Even its apparent advantage regarding its environmental impact is questionable in many locations due to the production system of primary energy. Then the only possible alternative seems to be hydrogen-based which is, according to the scientific community, still in its infancy.

Economic and commercial features are extremely important. Due to the current domination of the conventional technology based on oil, many countries at national level and dozens of regions and cities at local level did implement financial incentives and/or various administrative advantages in favor of zero-emission vehicles in order to initiate and promote the market for such vehicles, in a context which is generally speaking not yet economically attractive. Such incentives are very costly for public administrations and still need to prove their efficiency. One could even think that there is a delusive attraction of incentives for full electric passenger vehicles. For the customers, the gap to be filled in is currently so big at purchasing as well as total cost of operation that it is a powerful deterrent.

Corporate strategies regarding the adoption of full battery electric vehicles as part of their portfolio, whether they are traditional OEMs or new entrants, vary from strong commitment and enthusiasm leading to early commercialization to rejection and over-caution, keeping it as a pure research object. The main lesson learnt when looking at this story over nearly half a century is that when an alternative new technology is competing with a well-established conventional one, it must offer “acceptable” performances and price/cost.

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