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This past year has seen a careful readjustment of expectations concerning the future of the electric vehicle market among the world’s leading automakers. The world’s top auto shows, from Detroit to Geneva, have shown evidence of a gradual return to the past after 2012 auto shows the world over presented an auto industry proud of its electric vehicle innovations and suggested a continuing trend of evolution alongside a budding consumer market. However, this year’s shows saw automakers scaling back expectations to a significant degree, while many top brands continued to introduce new electric versions of existing popular models and lowering the prices of their existing EV options, remarks from the heads of these companies suggested an altogether different reality in the board room from that of a year ago.

There is a trend which seems to have taken root among auto industry leaders towards decreasing EV related technological innovation efforts, improving the consumer attractiveness of existing EV models , and supporting further charging infrastructure expansion while relying on traditional gas-fueled and hybrid vehicles to ensure market competitiveness. Do these market expectations actually reflect real world consumer sales and government attitudes or are car manufacturers too quick to retreat from this frontier?

The latest sales figures from France suggest an alternative narrative to that presented by auto makers, this April saw France’s automobile industry record a remarkable 1 500 new electric vehicle registrations, taking 2013’s cumulative sales total to 3 188, compared to 2012’s 1 595 from the same time. This explosive growth is largely driven by another of the key factors influencing the future of the electric vehicle industry: government incentives. The French government continues to show strong support for consumer EV adoption, offering new vehicle owners a € 7 000 tax incentive.

The French government’s support for the EV industry is also evident among the leaders of one of Asia’s mega-cities, the city of Beijing recently updated its target for electric vehicle use, setting an ambitious goal of having a  total of 50 000 electric or hybrid vehicles on its roads by 2015. While this target includes city vehicles and such fleet vehicles as taxis and buses, authorities are also making an earnest attempt to drive consumer purchases as well by offering private citizens a tax incentive worth just over €7 500. Alongside these tax incentives the city also plans to support infrastructure development, an increasingly crucial step in increasing consumer confidence in the viability and practicality of electric vehicles, by installing the world’s largest charging station in the city, servicing up to 400 electric vehicles at once.

Finland too continues to evolve its charging infrastructure, a network which currently includes 247 public charging posts across 45 stations, the largest of which is located in Helsinki and features 13 charging posts while the single greatest concentration of charging posts is Oulu’s 162 posts. On the strength of the actions of local and national governments, such as those of Finland and China, a recent study by IMS Research suggests that the current global network of 135 000 charging stations will undergo massive growth over the remainder of the decade, reaching 10.7 million by 2020.

These recent findings will certainly come as a great relief to the present EV owners as well as a further encouragement to potential customers currently dissuaded by range anxiety and issues regarding the comprehensiveness of the present charging network, two of the most consistently expressed concerns plaguing gas-drivers.  Furthermore, researchers also believe that the US will be a significant focus of this development, alongside China and major European population centers, a promising finding considering that the United States recently passed the 100 000 unit mark for electric vehicles sold in the country, a development which signals a resistant faith in the future of electromobility in the face of a popular culture and political environment which, following the fallout over government support of electric vehicle start-ups that have failed to reach their initially lofty goals, seems anything but welcoming to the future of sustainable urban living.

Thus, while auto makers have begun to bow to market demands and fiscal realities, it seems that governments and consumers continue to keep the electric vehicle dream alive while they wait for the rest of society to catch up.

Read more: Electric cars back into the shadows at Geneva car show (phys.org)

Detroit Auto Show: Electric Vehicles, Automated Technologies Bring Innovation To 2013 NAIAS (Huffington Post)

Electric Vehicle Sales in France Double in First Four Months of 2013; Fluence Z.E. Sales Equal Zero (Indisde EVs)

Beijing: 50,000 Electric Cars By 2015, 30,000 For Private Uses  (International Business Times)

Sähköautojen julkiset latauspisteet yleistyvät Suomessa - Mikkeliin oma piste (YLE news; In Finnish)

Expect millions of electric car charging stations by 2020 (NBS News)

100,000 Electric-Drive Cars Now On American Roads (EVWorld.com)