From Step Tools, Inc.'s excellent overview of STEP purpose, applications and development (emphasis mine):
The ultimate goal is for STEP to cover the entire life cycle, from conceptual design to final disposal, for all kinds of products. However, it will be a number of years before this goal is reached. The most tangible advantage of STEP to users today is the ability to exchange design data as solid models and assemblies of solid models. Other data exchange standards, such as the newer versions of IGES, also support the exchange of solid models, but less well.
But later, in the "Future of STEP" section:
The real issue that stops faster STEP deployment is the commitment of those with the resources necessary to define the standards. The government does not like to pick solutions for industry, and industry does not like to fund the development of solutions that can also be used by their competitors. Consequently, much work only gets funded in situations of clear and desperate need such as when the high cost of manufacturing is causing excessive job losses.
The Internet and the World Wide Web broke through this cycle when "killer" applications made the benefits of the new infrastructure clear and compelling for all users. AP-203 made STEP useful by allowing solid models to be exchanged between design systems. AP-238 will make STEP compelling for some users by allowing them to machine parts more efficiently. However, like the early Internet there will be alternatives that are considered more reliable by other users. The killer application that makes STEP ubiquitous has yet to be identified.
There's a lot of good info on STEP buried in obscure corners of the web. I hope to be summarizing some of my research on the topic soon.