"Back in 2008, a lot of people thought higher (sales) numbers were achievable within 10 years," Michael Holman, a research director at Lux Research, told Design News. "But that's an area where people have come around to more realistic views. They're realizing that it might take a longer time, coupled with some fundamental scientific breakthroughs, before the battery costs get down to the level that's needed."
To be sure, the forecast isn't grim for all electrified vehicles. Plug-in hybrids, particularly those with smaller batteries, seem to have a better near-term outlook. By 2020, Lux Research predicts the auto industry will hit annual sales of 600,000 "light" plug-in hybrids (like the Prius PHV) and 150,000 "heavy" plug-ins (like the Volt). In contrast, Lux says sales of pure electrics will reach just 60,000 per year by 2020.
It's worth repeating that battery size plays a big role in those numbers. The Prius PHV, for example, employs a 4.4kWh lithium-ion battery (hence the higher sales forecast), while the Volt uses a 16kWh pack, the Leaf employs a 24kWh unit, and the Tesla Model S can reach as high as 85kWh. The bottom line is that the vehicles with massive battery packs generally have lower sales expectations.
None of this should be a surprise, of course. Bigger battery packs cost a lot more. And despite the ever-present hype around electric cars, consumers will usually reach for the more cost-effective solution first. "The economics of battery-electric cars don't make a lot of sense right now," Holman told us. "With hybrids -- even micro-hybrids -- you can get similar benefits in terms of reduced gasoline cost for a lot less money."