Celebrating World EV Day 2023 with a look at how far we’ve come

On 9 September we will celebrate World EV Day. I thought this would be a good time to reflect on the leaps and bounds in progress that the sector has made over the last four years since EV Day was started.

When I began writing for Zero Carbon Charge, a reaction I often got was either confusion or cynicism. A company setting up charging stations all over the country and soon Southern Africa? Was this not a bit premature?, I was asked. Are EVs really that widespread? Wouldn’t it be ages before we would need this kind of infrastructure? This view is understandable. The EV sector is growing so rapidly that it is easy to be a bit behind on the news if you haven’t been paying careful attention. It may feel like just the other day that EVs even really became a thing. 

But Zero Carbon Charge’s mission is in fact not premature. If you take a look at how things have changed since the first EVs graced the world’s roads and especially the way the industry has grown since the first World EV Day in 2020, four short years ago, this becomes indubitably clear. So let’s take a walk down memory lane…

A century ago

Interestingly, the idea of an electric car was first floated over 100 years ago. Slowly, over the course of the 19th century, inventors tinkered and experimented with some crude iterations of battery powered and electric motors.

It was around the end of the century in1890 that an American chemist developed the first successful vehicle—although it was essentially just an electrified wagon, pretty far from what we picture as an “EV” today, as you can imagine.

Electric cars really took off around 1900, especially in urban areas, with around a third of all vehicles in the US being electrically powered. But then, alas,  Henry Ford threw a spanner into the works with his mass-produced Model T. It was an immediate success. Gas was more readily available to those living in rural areas and few of them had electricity, so petrol-powered vehicles were just a far better option. The result was that by 1935, petrol had won out and EVs were essentially no more. 

This is tragic to think about in a way—that we were on such a positive trajectory but were stumped by oil. For the next 30 years, very little in the way of development or innovation happened in the EV sector. In the 70s, there was a renewed interest, largely due to a significant rise in oil prices and America’s consequent desire to be less dependent on foreign oil.  But even then, the EVs that were being developed left a lot to be desired. They were extremely slow and could make it not much further than 60km—talk about range anxiety!

A change in the tides

Finally, at the turn of the 20th century, things started to look up in the Western market. The Toyota Prius, the first hybrid electric vehicle, was hugely successful and really put the concept of electric vehicles firmly on the map.  Not long thereafter, a little Silicon Valley start up called Tesla opened its doors. By the 2010s, other mainstream automakers like Chevy and Nissan had ventured into the electric market. 

We might be tempted to conclude here with a “the rest is history”, but no story about the history of EVs is complete without including China. During the 1960s, China began making inroads into e-mobility with electric scooters.  It took a few decades to really catch on but by the 1990s, the ball began rolling in earnest. Between 1998 and 2008, the electric-bike industry grew in annual sales from 50 000 to over 21 million. On the car side of things, China knew it would not outpace Japanese, German, and US legacy automakers in the ICE or even hybrid market. So in the early 2000s they decided to take the risky step of entering what was at the time a very niche fledgling EV sector. By 2009, the Chinese government was investing heavily in EV technology. Between 2009 and 2022, they spent over $29 billion building up the industry. This proved to be wildly successful. In 2009, a mere 500 EVs were sold in China. By 2022, that number had risen to 6 million.  

The important statistics

To truly understand the meteoric rise of EVs, it is necessary to take a look at some statistics. Bear with me… 

  • Globally, between 2012 to 2017, EV sales went from 100 000 to 1 million
  • In 2019, the combined sales of plug-in hybrid EVs and battery EVs worldwide topped 2 million.
  • In 2022, just 3 years later, 10 million EVs were sold worldwide. That is more than all the cars sold in the European Union that year put together. 
  • In 2023, in the month of June alone, over 1.26 million EVs were sold, more than in the whole of 2017. 
  • In 2022, EVs made up 14% of all car sales, 10 times more than in 2017. And in 2023, that share rose to 19%.  

19 % market share in 2023

  • And finally, perhaps the most astonishing statistic of all: there were over 26 million EVs on the road in 2022, up 60% relative to 2021.


EVs on the road in 2022

Again, China deserves a special mention as it truly dominates the EV market by a long way, making up over half of all global sales. 29% of all cars sold in China are electric (compared with 21% in Europe, 8% in the United States, and about 2% across the rest of the world). Despite the setbacks of COVID-19, around 6 million EVs were sold in China alone in 2022. This is a more than 80% increase compared to 2021. Astounding. 

So what can we expect for the World EV days to come? Excitingly, EV sales outside of the major EV markets (US, China and the EU) are expected to rise. It is predicted that the number of EVs sold outside of the major markets by the end of 2023 will be 50% higher than in 2022. In India, Thailand and Indonesia collectively, sales tripled in 2022 relative to 2021. Cost still remains a barrier to entry in emerging markets but thankfully we can expect to see the price of EVs fall significantly by 2030. The launch of BYD in South Africa this year bodes well! We should also see a marked increase in the manufacturing and sales of electric light commercial vehicles (like pickup trucks and vans). The same goes for electric trucks. 

This all goes to show that the EV hype is not overblown, and Zero Carbon Charge is right on the mark. Looking back on the history of EVs, we see an exciting story of growth and innovation that will only continue. There is truly cause for celebration on this World EV Day. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Josie is a writer and researcher who wants to do her bit to make the world a little greener. She holds an MA in Philosophy from Stellenbosch University and is currently working on her doctoral proposal.

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