Electric cars had their biggest year ever in 2019, even as storm clouds gathered over their future.
The numbers were huge. Automakers committed $225 billion to electrification in the coming years. Electric vehicles (EVs) grabbed 2.2% of the global vehicle market over the first 10 months of 2019 as a slew of new models hit the road. Ford, which has yet to sell an all-electric vehicle, showed off the upcoming electric Mustang Mach-E (a crossover SUV) and an electric F-150 pick-up. Tesla, of course, shocked everyone by turning a profit and previewing a strange future with its “cybertruck,” potentially the Hummer for Millenials.
But it wasn’t all rainbows. Outside of China and Norway, where car buyers enjoy generous incentives, the market is still driven by early adopters rather than the mainstream. EV sales for the year have been sluggish. While some states such as California have seen EVs capture 8% of new sales (all-electric and plug-in hybrid), the rest of the country has not yet caught on. After doubling between 2017 and 2018, EV market share in the US had crept up from 1.6% last March to 1.8% a year later (pdf).
That hasn’t slowed automakers’ ambitions. They’re betting it’s better to get ahead of the now-inevitable shift to EVs than play catch up to established rivals and Tesla. But if demand fails to pick up the big bet may mean consolidation and bankruptcy for some.
Here are the highlights from 2019.
EVs sold even as the car market dipped. The Model 3 can claim most of the credit.
The year started off strong for electric cars. After selling a record 361,000 EVs in 2018, automakers foresaw a robust 2019. Yet for carmakers not named Tesla, sales sputtered out mid-year. Sales for the three dozen or so other EV models on the market declined by an about 20% in 2019 compared to a year earlier, while Tesla’s Model 3 sales tripled between January and September. Tesla represented an astonishing 78% of US EV sales as of October, estimated CleanTechnica, delivering about 123,000 Model 3s, and 30,000 Model S and Model X vehicles. But EVs proved to be a rare bright spot amid what appears to be a long-term decline in global auto sales now entering its third year, what industry analysts call “peak car.”
Read more: Quartz