Jul 25, 2022 - Energy & Environment

One barrier to electric cars: Slow fleet turnover

Illustration of lightning bolt symbols stuck in an hour glass.

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

New research explores a hurdle sometimes missed in the excitement about the electric vehicle growth: People don't buy cars very often.

The big picture: The peer-reviewed work analyzes a vast array of studies on EV growth levels that would be consistent with Paris Agreement temperature targets.

One key finding: "The slow speed of fleet turnover presents a substantial barrier to deep decarbonization," states the analysis, a chapter in a new book on energy transition.

Zoom in: It models targets for boosting electric vehicle and other zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) sales and phasing out sales of conventional gasoline- and diesel-powered cars, such as the U.K. target of 2030.

  • It sets this against the average lifetime of internal combustion cars, which in the U.S. is 16 years. Smush them together and there's a big "turnover lag."
  • "Achieving a ZEV share consistent with 1.5°C pathways would require a combination of a relatively early ban by around 2030 and an average non-ZEV lifetime shorter than 10 years."
  • More aggressive policies and incentives that encourage faster turnover are needed for pathways to limit warming to 1.5°C and 2°C.

What they're saying: "People generally tend to underestimate how difficult it is to change a stock variable, like all cars on the road. There is too much focus on the flow, or vehicle sales," Emil Dimanchev of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, lead author of the chapter, said via email.

Yes, but: Cleaner cars don't decarbonize light-duty road transport alone. The research also notes the need for policies that help reduce travel demand growth and more.

Go deeper: Dimanchev breaks down the work in this Twitter thread.

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