A Baojun E100 electric vehicle stands plugged in to a charging station. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

Electric Cars Feel a Little Competition

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- Electric cars topped the 1 million sales milestone in 2017, a 57 percent increase over 2016. Chinese consumers alone purchased more than half a million electric cars. And Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects more than half of all new cars sold, and a third of the total light vehicles on the road, to be electric by the year 2040.

But that all pales in comparison to electric bikes. Europeans especially have embraced them, snapping them up in greater numbers than electric cars are being bought in other, far larger countries:

Electric Cars Feel a Little Competition

Of course, a single-passenger bike and a four-passenger car aren’t directly comparable, but their use certainly overlaps. An electric bike capable of reaching a speed of nearly 30 miles per hour can match or exceed that of city auto traffic. Every new bike on the road is a car that is not being used, or one that might not be bought in the future.

Think of electric vehicles — from scooters to buses —  as being along a spectrum of ways to move people. The only model that could span the entire spectrum is the automobile, which can drive one person a few hundred feet or a handful of people thousands of miles. Everywhere along that spectrum, though, another electric option challenges the car in more narrow uses.

Still, cars are not going away, particularly in China. Total European and U.S. auto sales have been flat for a decade. China sales have almost tripled:

Electric Cars Feel a Little Competition

But there are challenges facing the electric vehicle market. Electric bikes have been around for decades in China, but hundreds of thousands of compact, low-speed electric vehicles are sold there every year, too (some of which even look like a Bugatti).

Bloomberg New Energy Finance expects that the increase in electric vehicles in China will cause road transportation fuel demand to peak next decade, then decline. As Bloomberg Opinion’s Liam Denning says, “This is the ballgame” for oil markets. That ballgame is being played not just with cars but with a whole host of other electric vehicles, too.

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