In the United States, the phrase "electric vehicles" usually means cars like the Nissan Leaf or Tesla's forthcoming Model S sedan.
But the global market for electric vehicles includes not just cars but also aircraft, bicycles, buses, taxis, industrial and commercial vehicles, marine craft, golf carts and motorcycles.
The entire spectrum of electric vehicles is being highlighted this week at Electric Vehicles Land, Sea & Air, an industry conference that opened Tuesday in San Jose and continues through Thursday.
Conference organizer IDTechEx, a research and consulting firm based in the United Kingdom, estimates that about 1.6 million electric cars, including hybrids, will be sold worldwide this year. But the total number of all types of EVs sold will be far greater -- more than 39 million. Many of those will be e-bikes, vehicles for the disabled and industrial and commercial vehicles like hybrid forklifts and delivery trucks.
"A lot of electric vehicle conferences obsess about cars," said Peter Harrop, chairman of IDTechEx. "But if you're in green technology, you have to look at the big picture. The world is going off the car -- we've reached 'Peak Car' in most cities."
And while China has a booming car market, it also has 125 million electric bikes in use, Harrop added.
He noted that young people, armed with mobile phones, are increasingly turning away from cars in favor of walking, cycling or public transit because driving interferes with texting and use of social media. As electric buses replace older diesel buses in several countries, ridership is going up.
"America is shaped by the car, but when you drive through Beijing you see electric scooters everywhere," said David Salguero of San Francisco-based Mission Motors, which makes components for electric motorcycles. "The two-wheel market is a big market."
Startup Ryno Motors, of Oregon, has created a one-wheeled electric scooter and markets itself as "solving short distance commuting challenges." The 140-pound vehicle, scheduled to go into production in 2013, is small enough to bring on trains and subways.
"This is an electric competitor to Segway," said CEO Chris Hoffman. "It's meant for the Segway market that Segway never fully exploited."
Many larger electric vehicles, like aircraft and marine robots, were not on display at the conference, which is being held at San Jose's Doubletree Hotel. But Harrop of IDTechEx said the military is actively developing electric vehicles for the armed forces.
"The military wants vehicles on land and sea that don't have heat signatures or make noise, because missiles home in on that," Harrop said.
To be sure, cars still capture the general public's imagination. Toyota is showing off its Prius Plug-in, which is just hitting the market this month, as well as the all-electric RAV4EV, which should be delivered to customers in July.
Another vehicle on display at the conference is an electric bike by Saturna Green Systems, a startup based in Vancouver. A smartphone is mounted on the handlebars, giving the bike rider turn by turn navigation or information about local cafes. When the smartphone is removed from the handlebars, it automatically locks and shuts off the bike.
IDTechEx plans to bring the conference back to the South Bay in March 2013, but has not chosen a venue.
Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.
For more information
About Electric Vehicles Land, Sea & Air, go to www.idtechex.com/electric-vehicles-usa-12/ev.asp