Let Us Bury the Chicken and Egg

August 25, 2017

By: Jeff Allen, Executive Director


This year marked the tenth edition of the EV Roadmap Conference in Portland, Oregon. It would be hard to overstate how much has changed in the EV world over the past decade – but a few pesky things have remained the same. 

I was reminded of this during yet another conversation with a colleague about the so-called “chicken and egg” problem of charging infrastructure and EV sales. (That is, the argument that we need lots of charging to support the cars, but until we have a critical mass of cars, the business model for the charging infrastructure is challenging.) 

As we talked, I was mostly thinking about why I hate this analogy so much. I always have. Aside from being trite, the old “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” riddle this is based on implies that we are facing a problem that can’t be solved. It invites a shrug of the shoulders and an “oh well, guess it won’t work” attitude. 

I’d like to humbly suggest that we stop reinforcing this attitude, which is simply not accurate. Large numbers of electric vehicle drivers happily drive without ever using public charging or even having a dedicated charger in their home. I’ve heard estimates that as many as 40% of plug-in owners simply use the cord that came with their car and an outlet in their garage overnight. 

Certainly public charging – especially fast charging – is very important and will help drive electric car sales and use. However, we will never have “enough” charging – or, more importantly, we will never have precisely the right amount of charging and no more. We will always be adjusting back and forth – sometimes more charging than we need, sometimes not enough. That’s how markets work.  

Our industry needs a better analogy to shape our thinking about this problem, and I have one to propose. It’s a lot more humble than the “chicken and egg” analogy, but I think it’s a lot more constructive: let’s think of this as a “hot dog and bun” problem instead. 

You can eat a hot dog without a bun. However, with a bun, you can add onions, mustard, and pickle relish; it’s easier to carry them around; and most people think they taste better that way. Unfortunately, in one of the great mysteries of modern cuisine, hot dogs and buns are virtually never sold in packages of the same number. It’s always 10 and 8, or 8 and 6, or some other mismatched number. That means you always have extra buns, or need more hot dogs to use up the buns. (For more on this fascinating conundrum: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9g3wDafZKU4

Anyone see the analogy to charging infrastructure yet? 

Try this: the next time you’re talking about the mismatch between the expansion of charging and vehicle sales, say “we have a hot dog and bun problem.” 

At a minimum, I bet it will get your listener’s attention more effectively. It will better position the problem as one that we can all relate to, we all find irritating, but we all find a way to live with and muddle through. Finally, as a bonus, it’s a lot more likely to make people smile. 

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Let Us Bury the Chicken and Egg
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This year marked the tenth edition of the EV Roadmap Conference in Portland, Oregon. It would be hard to overstate how much has changed in the EV world over the past decade – but a few pesky things ha...