The Decade, Reviewed looks back at the 2010s and how it changed human society forever. From 2010 to 2019, our species experienced seismic shifts in science, technology, entertainment, transportation, and even the very planet we call home. This is how the past 10 years have changed us.
It’s hard to believe that the original, all-electric Tesla Roadster is little more than a decade old. The Roadster was a milestone machine: the first production EV to use lithium-ion batteries, and the first to crack 200 miles per charge (244 miles to be exact). It shot to 60 mph in just 3.7 seconds, and cost about $100,000.
Now, as we close out the 2010s, think of this year’s Porsche Taycan EV. The car hits 60 mph in 3.8 seconds, gets 201 miles per charge, and costs just over $100,000. Sound familiar?
It’s curious that over this critical decade in automotive electrification, we’ve made enormous progress—yet seemingly none at all. EVs have flooded the market with ever-increasing battery performance, lower prices (thanks in part to tax credits), and more evolved design. These improvements have made EVs legitimate options for car buyers, not just curiosities relegated to well-compensated urbanites. The compact BMW i3, Chevy Bolt, and Nissan Leaf, various Teslas, Jaguar’s terrific i-Pace, Audi’s E-Tron SUV, and now the Taycan have provided a sensible array of configurations. Yet the driving ranges have lingered between 200 and 300 miles, mostly on the lower end of that spectrum.
That’s certainly a useful range that should ameliorate any driver range anxieties in terms of daily use, but it clearly hasn’t been enough to cause consumers to go all-in on electrification. The market share for EVs in the U.S. began the decade at around 0.10 percent, and by the 2018 had reached 2.1 percent. Mathematically, that’s nothing to sneeze at, but we’re still talking hundreds of thousands of electrics in total—a number most carmakers will match from a single popular model in a single year.
If You Build It, the EVs Will Come
But in the 2020s, that number is only going to climb and it’ll be thanks to infrastructure.
EVs are at the moment completely impractical for apartment dwellers, and homeowners have to pay for and accommodate home-charging stations to avoid having to top off at still-scarce public stations. Yes, you can drive a Tesla all the way across the country thanks to its Supercharger network, but charging it—and any other EV for that matter—is still a headache a full decade into this transportation experiment.
In fairness, it’s unrealistic to expect this infrastructure to spring up fully-formed overnight. But throughout the decade, charging availability has been the constant challenge. While things are changing with Ford promising to build the world’s largest EV charging network in North America, we’re still far from surpassing the convenience of combustion engines.
There’s also a definite need for speed. The fastest any EV can charge right now is roughly 150KW from a DC fast charger, which can load about 60 miles of driving range in ten minutes. The problem is that there are few cars and charging stations that can generate that kind of charge speed, and even the ones that do can be slowed down by the number of vehicles at the station and any number of infrastructure factors that can affect electricity availability.
In the next decade, EVs will also need to continue their price-dropping trend while adopting more traditional functionality and appearance. Granted, the public is admittedly quite fickle about car design. The BMW i3 was just too weird for a lot of people, while Teslas have sleek, modern designs.
Then Tesla CEO Elon Musk revealed the Cybertruck in November 2019—and that in many ways is the perfect EV to close out the decade. It’s intensely polarizing in design and of dubious practicality. The car likely won’t lure F-150 owners nor does it cater to EV enthusiasts in any meaningful way. Tesla is still fighting to move beyond the early-adopter crowd, and it's unclear how the Cybertruck will help in that fight.
The Decade, Reviewed
In that sense, the Cybertruck perfectly exemplifies the challenge ahead for EVs in the 2020s: Going mainstream. Perhaps the brightest light amid all the recent EV hand-wringing is Ford’s Mustang-inspired Mach-E, also announced in November. That car has been enthusiastically received so far—despite its risky appropriation of the Mustang brand—and it appears sleek, attractive, and functional.
It will also be affordable, starting at under $40,000 and able to drive between 200 and 300 miles, depending on the battery pack. It might be the first true people’s EV—not an overly compact city car nor a statement like the Cybertruck.
If the Mach-E takes off, others will surely follow, especially as batteries and charging networks enter their next age of serious evolution. It could be that a decade from now, the combustion engine could finally face oblivion.