It’s time for automakers to shut up on electric vehicles and just ship them

Ford CEO Jim Farley calls it a “watershed moment”. GM’s Mary Barra says it’s an “inflection point.” Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess said it was a “crucial moment for our business”. And Akio Toyoda, chairman of Toyota, describes it as “a diverse and unexplored era.”

The automotive industry is going electric. We know this because they’ve told us, time and time again, in income calls, virtual events, podcast interviews, and in many TV commercials. (Hello, Malcolm Gladwell!) No more dirty internal combustion engines of yesteryear, replaced by electric vehicles with zero exhaust emissions. The future is here, and it probably has a light bar.

The spotlight is on the automotive industry like never before. President Joe Biden, who is leading a plan to spend billions of dollars on EV charging infrastructure and new incentives for car buyers, has tested not one but two electric pickup trucks this year. Automakers are under tremendous pressure to help usher in this electric future. And they know it.

“The transition to electric vehicles is happening both much later than many people had hoped, and much faster than most legacies. [automakers] expected two or three years ago, ”said Sam Abuelsamid, senior analyst for electric mobility at Guidehouse Insights. He argues that automakers have “played down” the prospect of mass adoption of electric vehicles for years, lagging behind as Tesla absorbed market share. Today, sales of electric vehicles are on the rise, Tesla is one of the most valuable companies in history, and the entire auto industry is finally seeing profits in plug-in cars.

As expected, the transition was stilted and riddled with problems. There have been battery fires, recalls, fraud allegations, a global chip shortage, and numerous missed deadlines. The number of new EVs going on sale this year is still ridiculously low compared to all the gas guzzling trucks and SUVs, which are warming the planet and melting the glaciers, which still dominate the roads.

The deployment of new electric vehicles remains fairly slim. There’s the Ford Mustang Mach-E, the Volkswagen ID 4… and that’s it. The Porsche Taycan and Polestar 2 helped fill the premium segment, while short-range electric vehicles like the BMW i3, Ford Focus Electric and VW e-Golf got the ax. Audi has released a $ 140,000 electric sports car that is fantastic to drive, but won’t shake the sales needle so much.

Photo by Sean O’Kane / The Verge

Other deployments have been mixed. Rivian, which went public in one of the biggest IPOs of all time, saw its stock plummet on news that production of its first electric truck and SUV would be slow. The 2021 Chevrolet Bolt and Bolt EUV have both been recalled after a number of worrying battery fires, while the Mercedes-Benz EQS has been recalled over an infotainment issue. General Motors managed to start delivering Hummer EV trucks to its first customers, right under the wire. The Tesla Cybertruck has been delayed until 2022.

“It felt like we were getting ready for a big EV year,” said Jessica Caldwell, director of ideas at Edmunds. “Then the Mach-E came out, and that was about it.”

There have also been other setbacks. Ford has scrapped plans to build an electric SUV with Rivian and has postponed the launch of its next Explorer electric SUV until December 2024 at the earliest. The company just stopped taking reservations for the F-150 Lightning as it prepares to start production on its highly anticipated electric truck. Experts say more delays could be on the horizon if the pandemic continues to disrupt supply chains and the auto chip shortage doesn’t improve anytime soon.

Tesla still controls around two-thirds of the electric vehicle market in the United States, with the Model Y overtaking the Model 3 as the world’s best-selling electric vehicle. The company has achieved notable victories, such as an order for 100,000 vehicles from Hertz. But it has also sparked controversy over the rollout of the controversial Full Self-Driving beta software with some customers. For those looking for a non-Tesla electric vehicle, the options are still pretty slim, Caldwell said.

“I feel like this EV market has really been like ‘hurry up and wait’ because there are a lot of announcements and talk and yet not a lot of delivery,” she added.

Part of the reason is that the act of transforming a century-old industry is like making a three-point turn on a cruise ship. What’s easy for a startup or even a small car maker like Tesla is much harder for a 100,000 employee company like GM. These companies have been making internal combustion engines for so long that it’s hard to imagine them doing anything different.

Another reason it takes so long to see more EVs is that automakers are moving away from decades-old practices of outsourcing production and design work to suppliers in favor of a more manufacturing model. vertically integrated, said Greenhouse’s Abuelsamid. In the past, the design and construction of engines and transmissions was considered a key skill for an automobile manufacturer.

Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda announces battery strategies for electric vehicles

Toyota Motor President Akio Toyoda unveils dozens of new electric vehicle concepts at a recent event in Japan.


Ford CEO Jim Farley poses next to the electric F-150 Lightning outside its headquarters in Dearborn, Michigan.
Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP via Getty Images

President Biden visits GM ZERO factory in Detroit

GM CEO Mary Barra speaks at the company’s Factory ZERO EV assembly plant in Detroit, Michigan.
Photo by Nic Antaya / Getty Images

Volkswagen launches production of ID.3 electric cars

Herbert Diess, Head of the Volkswagen Group, speaks at the assembly launch of the new VW ID.3 electric car in Germany.
Photo by Sean Gallup / Getty Images

But now ICE powertrains are at their wit’s end and there’s no room for improvement, leading automakers and major suppliers to cut back on their investments. Electric vehicle motors and batteries are the new core competency, and automakers want to own the entire supply chain. Ford and GM both plan to install massive battery manufacturing facilities in the United States. They are also working to lock down other key materials, like lithium and other rare earth minerals.

“This is why we are suddenly seeing OEMs taking back control of key components in their next generation vehicles,” said Abuelsamid.

One of the main lessons automakers learned from the 2008 financial collapse and subsequent auto bailouts was the need to react more quickly to changes in customer demands. And right now, the demand for electric vehicles is increasing, but so is skepticism. It’s a strange time when customers recognize the environmental and financial benefits of going electric but aren’t sure they can afford an EV or that the necessary infrastructure exists to support their purchase.

Majority of non-EV owners believe EVs are unreliable (53%), too expensive (64%), and there aren’t enough charging stations, according to a new Consumer Technology Association survey charge to own a convenient EV (85 percent). On the other hand, EV owners are extremely enthusiastic about the benefits and reliability of EVs.

Obviously, that gap will narrow as more people get behind the wheel and see first-hand the benefits of owning an EV, such as less maintenance, larger cabs, instant torque, and more. other attractive features. But that will depend on the ability of the auto industry to manufacture enough electric vehicles to meet this growing demand.

To date, every major automaker has unveiled a grand strategy to shift to all-electric or at least predominantly electric sales. Volvo and Mercedes are doing it by 2030, GM by 2040, and Volkswagen by 2050. Of course, all of these commitments are just words floating in the ether, and the likelihood that some gasoline vehicles will manage to exceed those. deadlines are very high.

“There are a lot of new challenges for automakers doing all of this,” Abuelsamid said. “They know how to put vehicles together, but a lot of the rest is new and convincing consumers that they know what they’re doing won’t be easy. ”

The slow deployment of new electric vehicles gives the false impression that we have time when, in reality, time is running out. There are approximately 280 million cars and trucks on the roads in the United States today, only 3% of which are electric. Americans typically buy 16 to 17 million cars each year, which means it will take about 16 years of electric vehicle sales just to completely replace all of the gasoline cars currently on the road.

Meanwhile, climate change experts insist we need to limit global warming to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid some of the worst scenarios climate change could create. We are on the way to getting past that in a few decades.

It all depends on how fast and efficient the automakers are at producing electric vehicles – while the rest of us grapple with the ravages of car addiction. Fewer cars on the road, especially in urban areas where they create traffic jams and undermine more sustainable modes of transport, will be key to tackling climate change. Experts believe that smaller, battery-powered vehicles, like e-bikes, can help lead the way by replacing car trips and making cities more livable.

But this is probably not the decisive moment that the automakers had in mind.

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