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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The flurry of high-profile electric vehicle rollouts lately makes it easy to look past a big problem for the sector: tepid consumer demand means it's unclear when the EV age will begin in earnest, at least in the U.S.

Driving the news: Several recent stories underscore how drivers remain cautious about ditching gas pumps for plugs — even as automakers make big bets on bringing a slew of new models to market.

Why it matters: Year-end sales data tells the story of a sector struggling to find footing once you look past the big year by Tesla (which by the way saw its valuation hit $100 billion in trading yesterday before receding).

  • This Los Angeles Times story, citing Edmunds data, notes that 325,000 electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles sold in the U.S. last year, down from 349,000 from 2018.
  • “The number of battery-electric models available more than doubled last year, but EV sales didn’t budge much. That’s troubling,” AlixPartners' Mark Wakefield tells the paper.
  • Sales also slumped badly in China, the world's biggest auto market, starting in the middle of last year when the government slashed incentives.

The intrigue: Bloomberg points out that Tesla saw record sales last year, but cautions that the Silicon Valley company's success isn't spilling over into the wider EV market — yet.

  • "Look at every other corner of the U.S. auto industry — the world’s most valuable automaker, dealers, consumer surveys and market forecasts — and a more ominous picture emerges," they report.
  • A growing number of models will be fighting for space in what will remain a small market for a while. Jeff Schuster of the firm LMC, quoted in Bloomberg, says of the EV future, "It’s a long road and there definitely could be some carnage along the way.”
  • A Wall Street Journal story this week features pessimistic comments from Subaru officials.

What we're watching: Whether the sluggish sales and policy headwinds in the U.S. and China are enough to substantially change long-term global forecasts.

  • The research firm BloombergNEF studies the EV future especially carefully and tends toward the bullish side, seeing major growth as battery prices fall.
  • Its last big outlook projected that annual global passenger EV sales will reach 10 million in 2025 and 28 million in 2030. The next one arrives in May.

Go deeper: Electric vehicles face an uncertain policy landscape in 2020

Go deeper

14 hours ago - Health

FDA advisory panel recommends Pfizer boosters for those 65 and older

A healthcare worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine at the Key Biscayne Community Center on Aug. 24, 2021. Photo: Eva Marie Uzcategui/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A key Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Friday overwhelmingly voted against recommending Pfizer vaccine booster shots for younger Americans, but unanimously recommended approving the third shots for individuals 65 and older, as well as those at high-risk of severe COVID-19.

Why it matters: While the votes are non-binding, and the FDA must still make a final decision, Friday's move pours cold water on the Biden administration's plan to begin administering boosters to most individuals who received the Pfizer vaccine later this month.

15 hours ago - World

France recalls ambassadors from U.S. and Australia over submarine deal

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (L), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (C), and French ambassador to the U.S. Philippe Etienne. Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP via Getty Images

France has taken the extraordinary step of recalling its ambassadors to the U.S. and Australia after both countries blindsided their French allies with a new military pact and submarine contract, the French Foreign Ministry announced on Friday.

The backstory: While sealing an agreement with the U.S. and U.K. to acquire nuclear submarines, Australia ripped up an existing $90 billion submarine deal with France. That led senior French officials to accuse the U.S. of a "stab in the back."

Updated 15 hours ago - World

In reversal, Pentagon now says drone strike killed 10 Afghan civilians

Caskets for the dead are carried towards the gravesite as relatives and friends attend a mass funeral for members of a family that is said to have been killed in a U.S. drone airstrike, in Kabul on Aug. 30. Photo: Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

A U.S. drone strike launched on Aug. 29 killed 10 civilians in Afghanistan, including seven children, rather than the Islamic State extremists the Biden administration claimed it targeted, the Pentagon said Friday.

Why it matters: U.S. Central Command said at the time that officials "know" the drone strike "disrupted an imminent ISIS-K threat" to Kabul's airport, and that they were "confident we successfully hit the target."