As elec­tric ve­hi­cles evolve, new styles are sought

Lodi News-Sentinel - - SPORTS - By Ian Thibodeau

DETROIT — Main­stream au­tomak­ers are fi­nally catch­ing on to the fact that no one said an elec­tric ve­hi­cle had to look — or drive — like an un­der-pow­ered jelly bean.

The next sev­eral years are ex­pected to de­liver a slew of fully elec­tric ve­hi­cles that are more at­trac­tive, more ca­pa­ble and look a lot more like the trucks, SUVs and cars seen on road­ways to­day. That would be a de­par­ture from the tiny main­stream bat­tery-elec­tric ve­hi­cles that Gen­eral Mo­tors Co., BMW AG, Nissan Mo­tor Co. and a few oth­ers have failed to pop­u­lar­ize.

And while trucks and SUVs con­tinue to be the best-sell­ing ve­hi­cles for nearly ev­ery au­tomaker op­er­at­ing in the United States, ex­perts say the next gen­er­a­tion of elec­tric ve­hi­cles is likely to bring elec­tri­fied ver­sions of some of the largest, least en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly ve­hi­cles au­tomak­ers ever made, such as the Hum­mer name­plate.

And the bor­ing com­pact elec­tric ve­hi­cle de­sign seen spar­ingly on roads in re­cent years will die as elec­tric ve­hi­cles evolve into ma­chines more peo­ple ac­tu­ally want to be seen driv­ing.

“There is go­ing to be an ex­plo­sion of new de­signs,” pre­dicted Ted Can­nis, Ford Mo­tor Co.’s global di­rec­tor of elec­tri­fi­ca­tion. “There’s go­ing to be a lot more choice com­ing from man­u­fac­tur­ers.”

Call it the Tesla ef­fect, or call it tech­nol­ogy catch­ing up with the times. Ei­ther way, an­a­lysts and ex­perts say the next elec­tric ve­hi­cle wave won’t be the wimpy hatch­backs hardly any­one out­side of Cal­i­for­nia buys.

Ford plans to un­veil its firstever fully bat­tery-elec­tric crossover this year for a 2020 launch. They’re calling it “Mus­tang-in­spired,” and tar­get­ing a 300-mile range. Ex­ec­u­tive Chair­man Bill Ford has said the car will “go like hell,” a ref­er­ence to what Henry Ford II told his driv­ers dur­ing 24 Hours of Le Mans nearly 60 years ago. The au­tomaker also has a fully bat­tery elec­tric F-150 queued up, and other fully elec­tric ve­hi­cles on iconic name­plates are ex­pected.

Those ve­hi­cles would sup­ple­ment the fuel-ef­fi­cient hy­brids and plug-in hy­brid vari­ants Ford is launch­ing for nearly ev­ery name­plate in its North Amer­i­can lineup. Can­nis said Ford is test­ing fu­ture elec­tric ve­hi­cles and hold­ing them to the same stan­dards as they would ve­hi­cles pow­ered by tra­di­tional in­ter­nal com­bus­tion en­gines.

That’s how Ford plans to prove to con­sumers that it’s build­ing more ca­pa­ble elec­tric ve­hi­cles than the cars built by com­peti­tors in re­cent years mainly to com­ply with emis­sions stan­dards.

That has some an­a­lysts ex­cited. Adam Jonas, an in­vest­ment an­a­lyst with Mor­gan Stan­ley, said in a note last week that Ford’s near-term moves into elec­tric ve­hi­cles could de­fine the com­pany in the fu­ture. Ford doesn’t cur­rently have a fully elec­tric ve­hi­cle in its lineup, and ded­i­cat­ing prod­uct spend­ing to elec­tric ve­hi­cles could be a boon to Ford’s stock price long-term.

“A move to BEV could be ad­verse to near-term earn­ings, but pos­i­tive for the stock,” Jonas wrote. “We see a de­ci­sive strat­egy to­wards sus­tain­able trans­porta­tion as ul­ti­mately ben­e­fi­cial to the com­pany’s long-term strength and earn­ings mul­ti­ple.”

For con­sumers, the sweep­ing changes to elec­tric ve­hi­cle de­sign and de­ploy­ment will mean bet­ter op­tions for fuel ef­fi­ciency, said Jeremy Acevedo, an­a­lyst with Cal­i­for­nia-based Ed­munds.com. Ed­munds data shows that 56% of the na­tion’s elec­tric ve­hi­cle mar­ket re­sides in Cal­i­for­nia.

That could be be­cause of the lack­lus­ter de­sign of most of the ve­hi­cles on the mar­ket. It could be be­cause, in the United States, the spotty charg­ing in­fra­struc­ture is prohibitiv­e to long travel. It could be the mar­ket­ing be­hind the ve­hi­cles. And it could be be­cause, for the most part, you can’t get an elec­tric ve­hi­cle that’s good for much more than city driv­ing in warm weather.

“These are ve­hi­cles that are not par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar,” Acevedo said. “They’re com­pact. They’re aus­tere. This seg­ment has down­ward mo­men­tum. But as new en­tries take off, au­tomak­ers will im­ple­ment some size. They’ll kind of look like any ve­hi­cle on the road that peo­ple want to buy. The tech­nol­ogy is get­ting there. That’s re­ally where the tech­nol­ogy needs to be: in the seg­ments that peo­ple want to buy that look like ve­hi­cles peo­ple want to buy. True al­ter­na­tives to main­stream ve­hi­cles.”

That’s the goal, ac­cord­ing to Can­nis. Ford is dis­cussing a part­ner­ship with Volk­swa­gen AG that could in­clude elec­tric ve­hi­cles. Ford also is part­ner­ing with start-up Ri­vian Au­to­mo­tive LLC on ei­ther a truck or an SUV. Ri­vian plans to launch a five-pas­sen­ger elec­tric R1T pickup and a seven-pas­sen­ger R1S SUV with a more than 400-mile range and of­froad ca­pa­bil­ity in late 2020. Those part­ner­ships would com­ple­ment the more niche Mus­tang-in­spired bat­tery elec­tric ve­hi­cle.

Then there’s GM, which is angling to­ward an all-elec­tric fu­ture it en­vi­sions as “zero crashes, zero emis­sions and zero con­ges­tion.” Un­der CEO Mary Barra, the com­pany was cred­ited with be­ing an in­no­va­tor with the launch of its Bolt EV, though the Michi­gan-built car has yet to prove a strong seller. The au­tomaker sold 8,281 Bolts through the first six months of 2019. By com­par­i­son, Chevro­let moved 194,426 light-duty Sil­ver­a­dos in the same time frame.

Now the au­tomaker is in the early stages of a plan to re­lease 20 new elec­tric ve­hi­cles by 2023. The au­tomaker’s next-gen­er­a­tion EV ar­chi­tec­ture — which will de­but on an all-new Cadil­lac model — is de­signed to sup­port a va­ri­ety of body styles. It will also be of­fered in front-, rear- and all­wheel drive con­fig­u­ra­tions.

GM also is work­ing on an elec­tric pickup, the com­pany has con­firmed. There are also ru­mors of the au­tomaker plan­ning to re­vive the Hum­mer name­plate, which could adorn the elec­tric pickup. GM has not of­fi­cially con­firmed which brand would get the elec­tric pickup.

And the Sil­i­con Val­ley start-up, Tesla Inc., and CEO Elon Musk have teased re­peat­edly a Tesla pickup with hard-to-be­lieve specs, like 300,000-pound tow­ing ca­pac­ity. That would join Tesla’s grow­ing fleet of sleek, stylish cars and a crossover that broke the mold for what pure elec­tric ve­hi­cles could look like and how they could per­form.

STACEY WESCOTT/CHICAGO TRI­BUNE FILE PHO­TO­GRAPH

Bill Borge­son charges his Tesla Model S in Rolling Mead­ows, Ill., on June 3.

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