It might seem like there’s more news about electric cars lately than actual electric cars on the road. Tesla took a step toward becoming a mass-producer this month when the $35,000 Model 3 sedan started rolling off a California assembly line. Volvo said it will begin phasing out cars that run just on fossil fuels in two years. France plans to eliminate gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles entirely by 2040. Automakers are pouring billions into an uncharted electric future because the cars are getting cheaper more quickly than expected, and because governments worldwide want concrete action against climate change. But these ambitious plans present a jarring contrast to what’s actually happening today in showrooms. In the U.S., for instance, low gasoline prices have super-charged sales of pickups and sports utility vehicles.
Battery-powered and plug-in cars may have been around since the 1800s, but from a sales sense, they’re still in their infancy. Chinese consumers bought about 289,000 last year, more purchases than any other market, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Europeans purchased 215,000 and U.S. consumers bought 150,000. That’s compared with 92 million internal-combustion vehicles sold globally in 2016, and 17.6 million in the U.S. alone.