The Average Lifespan of Electric Cars Is 3.6 Years. It Makes Sense and Has Nothing to Do With Their Reliability

The fleet of combustion cars is getting older and older. That doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.

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Statistics can be helpful for understanding reality, but it’s important to read them carefully to avoid drawing incorrect conclusions. For instance, a study by S&P Global on the age of the U.S. vehicle fleet found that electric cars have a shorter average lifespan compared to other vehicles. The average age of light vehicles is 12.5 years, while battery electric vehicles (BEVs) have an average lifespan of just 3.6 years.

Does that mean that electric cars break down sooner? Not necessarily.

What does the data say? The electric car fleet is significantly younger than the average age of all other vehicles. According to S&P Global Mobility’s latest report, the average age of U.S. cars and light trucks is 12.5 years. When focusing solely on passenger cars, the average age is slightly higher at 13.6 years. However, this doesn’t apply to electric cars, which have an average age of just 3.6 years in the U.S.

What’s the trend? The trend is the opposite for cars and light trucks compared to electric vehicles. The average age of cars and light trucks has increased by three months from 2022, while the average age of electric vehicles has decreased by about one month. In 2022, the average age of U.S. electric cars was 3.7 years. Now, it’s 3.6 years.

Why? This difference is due to the starting point of each vehicle type and their changes over the past few years. Statista’s charts help us understand how that happened. In 2016, only 80,000 battery electric vehicles were sold in the U.S., but by 2022, the number had risen to 790,000. This trend is expected to continue, with sales projected to reach 2.1 million electric cars by 2028.

According to S&P Global, as new electric vehicles are added to garages and roads, they lower the average age of the national fleet, which has been between three and four years since 2017. According to the firm’s estimates, new electric car registrations have been increasing by 58% year over year, reaching nearly 758,000 units in 2022.

And what about the entire fleet? The situation is different if we look at the over 284 million vehicles on American roads, including many cars with internal combustion engines. Over the past six years, the average age of the fleet has been increasing consistently. This trend reflects the steepest increase in age since the 2008 recession, possibly due to changes in sales patterns.

How can we explain this? “In 2022, the average age experienced upward pressure initially due to supply constraints that caused low levels of new vehicle inventory, and then by slowing demand as interest rates and inflation reduced consumer demand in the second half of the year,” S&P Global’s report reads, adding that this resulted in an 8% decline in both retail and fleet sales of light vehicles.

Key factors. First of all, as reported by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the internal combustion vehicle market peaked in 2017 and is now experiencing a “structural decline.” Secondly, electric vehicles still make up a small portion of overall vehicle sales. In April 2023, according to the Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), 105,438 plug-in vehicles (PEVs), which includes both BEVs and plug-in hybrids, were sold. This marked a 49.7% increase from the same month in 2022, but PEVs only accounted for 7.83% of total light vehicle sales.

What's the situation outside the U.S.? The S&P Global study is interesting because it allows us to compare the age of BEVs and the entire vehicle fleet, but it’s not the only study providing valuable data. Another important report that complements this comes from the ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. In May, the ACEA published a report on the average age of passenger cars, vans, trucks, and buses with the most recent data available, which was from 2021.

The report concludes that cars in the EU have an average age of 12 years. This average is even higher in Greece and Estonia, where the fleet is close to 17 years old. On the other hand, Luxembourg has the youngest fleet with passenger cars averaging around 7.6 years old.

Image | Michael Fousert via Unsplash

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