DETROIT — The auto industry is betting billions of dollars that electric vehicles will soon be as common as conventional cars.
Currently, only a fraction of the auto market is electric. However, most of the big automakers have said in the past year they plan on pivoting to all-electric lineups. And in many ways, the future for electric vehicles is happening now.
In the spotlight in recent months:
• Ford Motor Company announced plans to roll out 40 electrified vehicles, including hybrids, globally by 2022. Of those, 16 will be fully electric cars. Its first fully electric vehicle will be a Mustang-inspired CUV with a 300-mile range and will be launched in 2020. Ford plans to spend $11 billion on the technology by 2022, more than doubling its investment in the production of electric vehicles.
• General Motors announced it plans to produce at least 20 new electric cars by 2023.
• Fiat Chrysler announced a $10.5 billion investment in gas-electric hybrids and fully electric vehicles.
• Daimler AG, the parent company of Mercedes-Benz, said it will produce electrified versions of all of its cars by 2022. Volvo announced it would phase out gas-only car production by 2019, while the Volkswagen Group is going to make everything electric in some shape or form by 2030.
• In all, global carmakers are committed to investing at least $90 billion in electric vehicles.
Why the change?
Emission regulations, gas prices and concerns about climate change are driving the change.
“Reducing our dependence on oil is one of the single, greatest challenges that our society faces,” Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne told financial analysts earlier this year.
General Motors sees many advantages into the electric vehicle market.
“Not only, of course, the emission component of it, but we’ve been finding that our customers start with the idea that they’re looking for a zero-admissions car but then fall in love with the experience of driving EVs,” said Elizabeth Winter, GM Spokesperson. “Certainly that instant torque, the really quiet ride, how smooth it is and then not having to go to a gas station. Until you drive EVs, that experience of just being able to plug in and wake up to essentially a full ‘tank’ is something we’re finding customers really enjoy.”
GM has committed to both battery electric vehicles as well as fuel cell electric.
“Those are technologies we see as the future, but we recognize that doesn’t happen overnight,” said Winter. “So with our internal combustion vehicles, this transition will happen over time but all-electric is our vision for the future, no date attached to that. It’s hard to predict.”
Much to do
There’s still much to do before everybody is driving an electric vehicle.
“Certainly one major challenge is infrastructure,” said Darren Palmer, who is Ford’s Global Director for Battery Electric Vehicles. “We have to think about how we support our customers by having the charging infrastructure they need in their homes, and also how they can connect to the available public infrastructure in a completely seamless way. When we developed gas-powered cars, we didn’t have to deliver fuel pumps, but with BEVs we have to develop the energy delivery system as well as the vehicles.”
Because of that, Palmer said “there will be a mixture of hybrid, internal combustion and battery electric vehicles for some time.”
In cities like Lima, where there is an engine plant, the obvious question is who will build the electric motors.
Lima Mayor David Berger, who chairs the Lima Auto Task Force, notes the Ford Engine Plant is nearly at capacity building one of the company’s most popular engines. It also remains one of the most producive plants in Ford’s system in North America.
“When it comes to making electric motors, I really think who does it is up in the air,” Berger said. “I don’t think they will be built at currrent engine plants because of the infrastructure and supply chain needed for building motors.”
Agreements are being made between automakers to produce electric car components.
Earlier this month, General Motors and Honda announced they are working together on a next-generation battery that will deliver higher energy density, smaller packaging and faster-charging capabilities for both companies’ future products.
Under the agreement, the companies will collaborate based on GM’s next-generation battery system with the intent for Honda to source the battery modules from GM. The collaboration will support each company’s respective and distinct vehicles. The combined scale and global manufacturing efficiencies will ultimately provide greater value to customers.
“This new, multi-year agreement with Honda further demonstrates General Motors’ capability to innovate toward a profitable electric portfolio,” said Mark Reuss, General Motors Executive Vice President of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain. “GM’s decades of electrification experience and strategic EV investments, alongside Honda’s commitment to advancing mobility, will result in better solutions for our customers and progress on our zero emissions vision.”
GM and Honda already have a proven relationship around electrification, having formed the industry’s first manufacturing joint venture to produce an advanced hydrogen fuel cell system in the 2020 timeframe. The integrated development teams are working to deliver a more affordable commercial solution for fuel cell and hydrogen storage.
Reach Sam Shriver at 567-242-0409.