Electric vehicles have a potential to lower greenhouse gas emissions but still face challenges. This study asks what can be learned from the US automobile history. In 1900, there were three equal contenders in the US automotive industry: gasoline, electric and steam cars. Only a decade later, the gasoline car had achieved a crushing dominance. This dominance is often attributed to techno-economic factors, such as an innate inferiority of electric cars. Meanwhile, the role of the infrastructures is not well understood. This study presents evidence on the mechanisms behind the rise of gasoline vehicles, using a database of more than 36,000 passenger car models. We estimated econometric models to explain the technology choice of car producers, which show that the slow expansion of electricity infrastructure had a key impact. We estimate that a 15 or 20 year earlier diffusion of electricity grids would have tipped the balance in favour of electric vehicles, most notably in metropolitan areas. In the context of the current climate crisis, the results support the notion that large-scale investment in infrastructure is critical to achieve sustainable socio-technological transitions.
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We gratefully acknowledge funding support from the Jan Wallander and Tom Hedelius foundation (grant nos W2015-0445 (J.T.) and W2017-0025 (H.N.)).
The authors declare no competing interests.
Peer review information Nature Energy thanks Massimo Guarnieri, Gijs Mom and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.
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Taalbi, J., Nielsen, H. The role of energy infrastructure in shaping early adoption of electric and gasoline cars. Nat Energy 6, 970–976 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41560-021-00898-3
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