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Automotive Roundtable: Choice, Capability to Create Electric Vehicle Tipping Point

By Brent Snavely, Senior Director

Just a few short years ago, most electric vehicles were novelty – or compliance – vehicles.

These were vehicles automakers made to demonstrate to regulators and Wall Street that they could make them, but few people beyond wealthy early adopters who cared deeply about the environment were truly interested.

Sure, automotive experts said they heralded the future of the industry, but with a range of just 100 miles or so before they needed to be recharged, they were not practical for most mainstream consumers and virtually every article about them talked about “range anxiety” that owners would need to overcome.

Today, electric vehicles still only accounted for 2% of new U.S. vehicle sales in 2020 – but the consensus among three panelists who participated in an automotive roundtable discussion hosted by Lambert’s Auto, Mobility & Manufacturing practice is the U.S. automotive industry is approaching a tipping point that will occur as a dizzying list of new models go on sale in the coming years.

“It’s not that we are at a tipping point today in terms of (electric vehicle) market share,” said Alisa Priddle, MotorTrend’s Detroit Editor. “Automakers aren’t making compliance vehicles anymore. The kind of vehicles that are coming out right now, they are the core vehicles, they are the kind of vehicles you want to buy. From a full-size pickup to a luxury car… there are electric vehicles coming to market in many shapes, sizes and price points.”

Automakers have announced plans to bring to market more than 100 new electrified nameplates over the next four years. What that means, according to the panelists, is that the wide range of electric vehicles consumers will soon be able to choose from will be comparable – and potentially even better – than vehicles with gasoline engines.

For example, Priddle said the zero to 60 mph speed, towing capability, and size of truck bed of Ford’s F-150 Lightning – an electric pickup revealed in May – will all be the best out of the automaker’s entire F-Series lineup.

Devon Lindsay, principal research analyst for IHS Markit, said his firm forecasts that EVs will account for nearly 27% of new global vehicle sales by 2030.

Regulations imposed by the European Union, China and California have been pushing the industry to embrace the development of EVs on a global basis, Lindsay said. But as more reach dealer showrooms, consumers will be drawn to them.

However, Christie Schweinsberg, electrification analyst at Wards Intelligence, pointed out there are still significant barriers for mainstream consumers.

“Consumers want that assurance that if they are out and about that there is charging infrastructure they can use,” Schweinsberg said. “Right now, our charging infrastructure in the U.S. is not robust.”

In California and other markets where EVs are popular, there are often waiting periods at public charging stations while in other markets, like metro Detroit, charging stations are sparse. For a lot of consumers, they are going to want to see that charging infrastructure get a lot more robust before they decide to plunk down their money for a new EV.

But with automakers and a host of start-up manufacturers spending billions to develop EVs, and executives placing their legacies on the line as they commit to making a transition to EVs, the transformation of the industry has begun to feel inevitable.

One automaker after another has made public commitments to massive spending and has set goals of launching electric vehicles as traditional gas and diesel engines gradually fade away.

“I think automakers are realizing you should not be investing millions of dollars into a new lineup of V6 engines,” Priddle said. “Anyone who is investing in internal-combustion engine technology instead of EVs really does it at great risk of falling behind.”