The Diffusion of Innovation, The Chasm, and the Tesla Model 3

Well, now that explains it...

Well, now that explains it…

Hmmm, it seems that I don’t have time to write long posts. So, I’ll just write some short ones instead. Short post number one– the diffusion of innovation theory really helps make sense of our transition to electric vehicles. As I’ve long held, EVs are clearly better vehicles. They’re mechanically more simple, smoother, quieter, quicker, more reliable, they require less maintenance, they’re cheaper to operate, AND they can be powered with renewable power, AND the entire fuel distribution network (the electric grid, in this case) is dramatically more efficient, AND the vehicles themselves are more efficient (regenerative braking, no wasted heat…). EVs will also help solve the indeterminacy problems of renewable generation, and the list goes on. Eventually we will all drive EVs, and gas-powered cars with tailpipes spewing filth will be seen as archaic.

Because I have long seen this, I would be listed as a “visionary” in the diffusion of innovation model, and because I have acted on these ideas and bought two EVs, I am also an “early adopter”.

A pattern that many have noticed, however, as they study technology, is that diffusion often gets stuck between the early adopters and more widespread use. They call this barrier “The Chasm”.  Early adopters typically adopt the innovation for reasons other than purely economic ones—in my case, I bought EV’s to lower my carbon footprint, and to try to do my part in getting humankind to operate in a more sustainable fashion. But the next phase of adoption, the early majority, consists of people who adopt the technology largely for economic reasons; they are pragmatists. “The chasm”, this barrier to adoption between the early adopter and the early majority, is something of a chicken and egg problem— in the case of EV’s, the lack of market share prevents the economies of scale from bringing down costs, and the higher costs prevent the market from expanding.

But, I’m pretty sure that right now, today, we are witnessing the electric vehicle crossing this adoption chasm after being a bit stuck for several years. And the reason? Tesla, and particularly the Model 3. The Model S (S, not 3!) has been groundbreaking in many, many ways, but it is still a $90,000 vehicle that most people can’t afford. The Model 3, however, promises to be a true game-changer.

Jumping-the-chasm impetus number one--- the Tesla Model 3.

Jumping-the-chasm impetus number one— the Tesla Model 3.

With a sticker price of below $40,000, and a range of over 200 miles, the Model 3 is likely to propel electric cars solidly into the mainstream (and 400,000 people have already paid deposits to ensure their place in the queue to get one). From there, all those natural advantages that EVs have will propel ever-further adoption—the chasm will have been crossed.

In addition, the announcement of the Model 3 prompted Chevrolet to do something akin to a magic hat trick—in just a few years, they managed to design and build a similar car, in an effort to steal Tesla’s thunder. Whether or not they stole the thunder remains to be seen, but they certainly beat Tesla to the punch– Bolts are rolling off the assembly line NOW, with price tags of under $40,000, and ranges of 238 miles per charge.

The Chevy Bolt--- chasm jumper number two.

The Chevy Bolt— chasm jumper number two.

Coupled with dramatically growing charging infrastructure, I think we’re at a tipping point in terms of the world adopting electric cars, and this adoption will only accelerate from here. Behind the scenes of this equation are cheaper and better batteries; in the last five years the power density of vehicles batteries has more than doubled, while prices have dropped by half.

So, there’s my shorter, quicker post. But, if I’m correct about The Chasm being bridged, the planet will soon be experiencing a win.

Image credits: 

Top graphic: Bryan M. Mathers, Creative Commons license, at http://bryanmmathers.com/diffusion-of-innovation-2/ . Image has been altered to remove top logo. 

Tesla Model 3: Tesla.

Chevy Bolt: Chevrolet.