Ford Motor Co. has a lot riding on what happens next week when the winners of the North American Car and Truck of the Year are announced. A panel of 50 U.S. and Canadian journalists have named the newly remade F-150 pickup one of three finalists in the truck category while, just as significantly, the all-new Ford Mustang Mach-E is a nominee in the utility vehicle category.
A win could give a real charge to marketing efforts for Ford’s first long-range battery-electric vehicle. But it also would do a lot for BEVs, in general, as they begin shifting from niche to mainstream products. Indeed, 2021 will bring a flood of new models — and will see them target a broader niche of the market, including full-size pickups, with General Motors set to launch its new GMC Hummer, while Tesla is due to weigh in with its new Cybertruck.
Tesla itself reached a significant milestone as 2020 ended, global deliveries coming just a nudge short of 500,000. In the U.S., demand took a hit, in part due to the coronavirus, as well as plunging fuel prices. Nonetheless, the market share for BEVs has quadrupled since 2017, according to IHS Markit, from 0.55 to 2.2%. And the research firm expects that to reach 6% by 2023 and 11.3% by 2029.
(Bentley’s new Bentayga Hybrid is a critical step in path to an all-electric future.)
Significantly, sales of pure battery-powered vehicles will surge past those of diesels during the next several years, Automotive News reported. While diesels keep losing momentum in the passenger car segment, they continue to find strong demand in the pickup segment, but aren’t expected to reach much higher than a 4% market share in the coming decade.
Another new report, by ABI Research, sees the EV revolution really beginning to take hold this year — even though a separate study by J.D. Power continues to find a large share of American motorists remain skeptical of the technology.
That may be less of a contradiction than first appears. Skeptics are quick to point out the various barriers to widespread acceptance, such as range, charging times, the lack of a fleshed out public charging network and high prices for a limited number of products. But each of those concerns are quickly being addressed.
Take the lack of product. At least 15 new BEVs and plug-in hybrids will reach market by 2022, according to Power, though that number actually may be a bit low. Whatever the final count, they will start fleshing things out by entering a broad range of product segments, with a heavy emphasis on SUVs and pickups. Along with Ford and Tesla, Volkswagen will weigh in with its new ID.4. At the upper extremes, Bentley has a new version of its Bentayga plug-in hybrid SUV. And there are a number of new market entrants coming, including Lucid’s Air sedan and Rivian’s all-electric pickup and SUV models.
While many of these still carry stiff premiums, VW is targeting more mainstream buyers with the ID.4 and, for what it’s worth, the Bentayga Hybrid will be the least expensive version of the Bentley SUV.
As for range, products delivering less than 200 miles per charge, like the Mini EV, are becoming rare, while Tesla has now pushed past 400 miles, Lucid’s longest-range Air promising 500 or more. Charging times also are coming down, though still nowhere near to the point they rival the fill up of a gasoline or diesel vehicle.
(Consumers warm to EVs — but most aren’t ready to plug in yet.)
The coming years, meanwhile, will see explosive growth of public charging stations, experts believe, although owners are expected to continue doing most of their charging at home or work. “Smart charging technologies, support for occasional Direct Current fast charging, and battery management will be critical in supporting mainstream consumers in their transition from ICEs to EV ownership,” wrote James Hodgson, author of the new ABI study.
Battery cars could become exponentially more appealing if new technology now on the horizon pans out. There have been numerous indications solid-state batteries could be ready for production by mid-decade, Japan’s Nikkei recently reporting that Toyota is readying a vehicle that will use this next-gen replacement for today’s lithium-ion batteries. It promises yet longer range, faster charging and lower costs, among key advantages.
Still, there are reasons to listen to the skeptics. The ongoing pandemic slowed adoption last year, and the likelihood that gas prices will remain depressed takes away one incentive for buyers to switch. While the charging infrastructure is expanding rapidly, there are still big gaps in flyover states. Even in Detroit, finding a quick charger can be a frustrating challenge – all the more so considering GM recently announced it will boost investments into BEV development by a third – to $27 billion through 2025 – by then bringing to market 30 all-electric models, rather than the 20 it originally planned by 2023.
More and more manufacturers are ramping up spending on plug-based vehicles. Even Bentley now plans to offer nothing but PHEVs and BEVs by 2026, switching to pure battery power by 2030.
Whether consumers will come along for the ride is uncertain, though there are signs that a growing share of buyers are considering their options. A study released last month by Consumer Reports found fully 78% of millennials open to buying a battery-electric vehicle, with seven in 10 U.S. motorists overall showing interest in the technology.
(First Drive: 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E.)
A win for the Ford Mustang Mach-E when NACTOY results are announced next week certainly could help build momentum by showing American motorists that the latest battery-cars provide a real alternative to conventional gas and diesel-powered models.