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Going electric is a big step for automakers and buyers

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Chris Teague

going electric
Going electric will take massive shifts in how companies design, build, and sell cars, and an even bigger shift in buyer perception.

The automotive world is going electric, like it or not. Nearly every major automaker has plans to shift most or all of new vehicle production to electrics by the end of the decade, and some governments are on board. Our partner Robin Warner spoke with General Motors CEO Mary Barra on this topic. GM plans to only sell EVs by 2035, making its commitment the strongest among America’s Big Three automakers. Your Test Driver spoke with Sam Fiorani, Vice President of Global Vehicle Forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions, to get another view on the road to electrification. Barra and Fiorani agreed on some points but took different opinions on others.

Building great new EVs isn’t enough

Barra told Warner that she believes GM’s great products will continue generating strong demand. “I think it’s going to feed on itself because we have early adopters,” she said. The Silverado EV is sold out for the first model year, and GM is already hard at work advertising new Ultium-based EVs years before they hit the streets. Barra believes that once given some time behind the wheel, people will realize how good the EV driving experience can be.

Fiorani noted that automakers need to foster a special perception among buyers to go along with a great product. He notes that image is as important as the vehicles, using Tesla as a great example of how a company can build dominance by first building a personality. Whether that has continued to be a positive thing today is up for debate, but there’s no denying Tesla’s omnipresence in the electric vehicle market. 

going electric

Buyers need an EV education

Automakers may also have blind spots when it comes to customer adoption, said Fiorani. Not all buyers are ready to jump to electric, and several factors could play into increasing their comfort level. He noted that people would be more likely to accept EVs when they realize it’s closer to switching from a landline to a smartphone than to an entirely new driving experience. Buyers must recognize that they’re getting something instead of giving it up. 

Buyers sometimes quote range anxiety or lack of charging infrastructure as barriers to shopping for EVs, and Barra recognizes that hurdle. GM is working with private industry and the government to build out a stronger, more comprehensive charging network. The automaker recently announced a plan to install chargers at hundreds of dealers across the country, potentially expanding charging access deep into areas that had none before. 

Fiorani believes that we’re seeing strong adoption for some new models due to name recognition, such as the Mustang Mach-E and Hummer, but notes that models like the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt haven’t seen the same popularity out of the gate. At the same time, he notes that automakers should have focused on core U.S. markets, like pickups and SUVs, instead of small cars. It’s worth noting that most new EVs coming out now follow his advice. 

2023 Nissan Leaf

The Inflation Reduction Act won’t help every automaker

Building products close to where they’re being sold is smart on multiple levels, but the new Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) makes it vital for automakers hoping to take advantage of EV tax credits. The IRA requires final assembly in North America, leading some European and Asian automakers to invest in American manufacturing facilities. 

In addition to causing headaches for international companies, the IRA has led to a mad scramble to build EVs here. As Fiorani points out, however, only large automakers can take full advantage of the situation due to the costs and time it takes to ramp up new production. The IRA is set to expire in 2032, so an unlimited timeline isn’t available.

Gas cars won’t disappear after 2030

General Motors has stated that it will not sell gas vehicles after 2035, but some companies have taken a softer approach after realizing gas engines still play a significant role in sales and growth. Ford will continue making gas and diesel engines for the foreseeable future, as its Super Duty trucks and Mustang sports car remain popular options. BMW will continue building gas engines as it notes strong demand for internal combustion. 

None of that is to say that EV development should slow or that we should cling to gas engines like they’re enthusiasts’ last hope. As Barra said, people (including diehard gearheads) will eventually realize that switching to EVs brings more benefits than downsides. Instant torque and the ability to scorch the tires in a family crossover should be enough to convince anyone, but there will be holdouts for years to come. 

going electric

Frequently Asked Questions

Are all cars going to be electric soon?

Not quite. As you’ve seen here and on the roads in your area, gas vehicles aren’t going anywhere. People still want and buy them, and there are still plenty of use cases in which they are a better choice. It’s more likely that we’ll see gas and electric choices across various segments and vehicle types that allow buyers to choose. Besides, it’s not like gas vehicles are going to disappear overnight. There will still be gas stations and vehicle servicing deep into the future.

How long do EVs last?

Electric vehicle batteries can last up to 200,000 miles or more, depending on how they’re cared for. Automakers also offer longer warranties and coverage to prevent costly replacement bills, taking much of the fear out of high-mileage EV ownership. That said, batteries tend to degrade over time and with use, so the impressive range numbers a vehicle showed when new might not be as impressive after several years of service.

Does cold weather affect EVs?

Cold temperatures can lower the range and slow charging, but many EVs come with thermal management systems that help maintain a consistent temperature during use. That can help prevent excess battery draw and improve charging times, but only when the vehicle is in use. 

Do I need a home EV charger?

If you have the ability to install a charger at home, it will drastically improve your quality of life and make EV ownership much less stressful. Hunting for public charging or waiting for that one spot at your office to open up isn’t much fun, and it can leave you without a charge if you’re in a hurry. 

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