China has said it will eventually ban gasoline-powered cars. California may be moving in the same direction. That pressure has set off a scramble by the world’s car companies
to embrace electric vehicles.
On Monday, General Motors, America’s largest automaker, staked its claim to leadership. Outlining a fundamental shift in its vision of the industry, it announced plans for 20 new all-electric models
by 2023, including two within the next 18 months.
GM’s announcement came a day before a long-scheduled investor presentation by Ford Motor that was also expected to emphasise electric models.
After the GM news
emerged, Ford let loose with its own announcement, saying it would add 13 electrified models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion.
believes in an all-electric future,” said Mark L Reuss, GM’s global product chief. “Although that future won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles.”
In the first eight months of 2017, even with federal tax incentives, Americans purchased only about 60,000 battery-powered electric vehicles, and about the same number of plug-in hybrid models, according to Hybridcars.com. That amounts to 1 per cent of the market.
But the upstart automaker Tesla has proved the potential of electric vehicles to generate excitement, with its first mass-market offering, the Model 3 sedan, attracting $1,000 deposits from hundreds of thousands of potential buyers. (It is also showing the challenges of getting the technology to scale, announcing on Monday that it produced only 260 Model 3s in the third quarter, “less than anticipated due to production bottlenecks.”)
More than consumer demand, however, it is regulatory pressure that is revving up the electric push, with officials in China, Europe and the United States ratcheting up emissions standards and setting or discussing deadlines that could eliminate gasoline-powered cars within a generation.
The announcements by GM and Ford
follow pledges by the German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler to build hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the coming years, and the decision by Volvo, the Chinese-owned Swedish luxury brand, to convert its entire lineup to either electric cars or hybrid vehicles that are powered by both batteries and gas.
The accelerated pace of development also reflects the symbiotic relationship between battery-powered cars and another technological frontier; auto companies
are tying their electric-car plans to lofty goals of building fleets of autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services.
The automakers believe they can solve the problem of achieving — as GM’s chief executive, Mary T Barra, has begun stressing — a world with “zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.”
It is a stunning statement from a company that, together with Ford, sells more large pickup trucks and full-size sport utility vehicles than the rest of the global industry combined — and from an industry that grudgingly got into building electric vehicles in the face of stricter fuel emissions standards.
Just last month, during a visit to China, Barra cautioned against mandates in which the transition to electric vehicles outpaces consumer demand. “I think it works best when, instead of mandating, customers are choosing the technology that meets their needs,” she said.
On Monday, Reuss framed the company’s strategy as a natural outgrowth of what it had learned from its existing entry in the all-electric arena, the Chevrolet Bolt, even though it has achieved only negligible sales so far.
“There is a transition going on,” said Reuss, adding that GM has no timetable to eliminate gasoline engines from its vehicles. He said that by the 2023 target date for the new electric models, GM will still be building cars, trucks and sport-utility vehicles with internal combustion engines.
“They wisely gave no time frame because, frankly, no one knows how the future will evolve,” said Michelle Krebs, an analyst with the research firm Autotrader.
©2017 The New York Times News Service