In the midst of the Tesla Model S rollout at the company's California manufacturing plant recently, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made a startling prediction: "In 20 years more than half of new cars manufactured will be fully electric," he said, according to a Reuters article. "I actually feel quite safe in that bet. That's a bet I will put money on."
That's a strong statement, but Musk apparently didn't think it was strong enough, so he quickly amended it. "It's probably going to be in the 12- to 15-year time frame," he added.
For those who closely follow the electric car business, that's a stunning prognostication, to put it kindly. Today, fully electric cars are few and their sales are poor. By 2020, Lux Research Inc. projects that "less than a percent" of new vehicles will be fully electric. Pike Research is slightly more charitable, saying they believe it could hit 1 percent. "If you look 10 years past 2020, is it going to gain another 49 percent?" asks Dave Hurst, senior analyst for Pike Research. "It's unlikely."
Tesla CEO Elon Musk expects half of cars to be electric in 15 years, despite the long odds against it.
So what's Musk thinking? Hard to say. A big thinker with a reputation for genius, Musk isn't afraid to take risks. His SpaceX startup has already sent a ship up to dock with the International Space Station, an achievement that initially drew laughter. His recent introduction of the Model S was another beat-the-odds story, since many expected Tesla to fail long before it reached this point. So Musk has a track record of turning his dreams into reality.
But half of all new cars within 12 to 15 years? Bear in mind, by using the term "fully electric," Musk is excluding plug-in hybrids, such as the Chevy Volt and Toyota Prius PHV. For now, that leaves the Model S, Nissan Leaf, Ford Focus Electric, Mitsubishi i-MiEV, GM Spark, and a few others. More are coming, but it would need to be a lot more to get to 50 percent in 12 to 15 years.
There are, of course, societal factors that could enter the picture. A shock to the oil market or government mandates, much stricter than those now calling for 54.5 mpg by 2025, could change the outlook. And the battery, of course, could be the biggest wild card of all. If materials scientists can find ways to dramatically boost the energy density, cut the cost, and charge batteries more quickly, they could launch a revolution in consumer demand.