By Peter M. DeLorenzo
Detroit. Well, it has indeed been special, watching as the automakers rushed to an electrified future en masse. And, The Future promised by battery propulsion would be an idyllic kaleidoscope of blue skies, candy color dreams, zero pollution and a whisper-smooth way of moving that would transform our very life for the better. In fact, it would be so damn perfect once we got there that everyone would wonder why we stayed with internal combustion engines for as long as we had.
But then, as it often does, reality has a way of hitting you in the face with a 2×4. The “Grand Transition” to BEVs (Battery Electric Vehicles) is all of a sudden postponed or, to be more specific, it has been derailed. There are a number of reasons for this, not the least of which is the fact that for the Domestic 2 and their Plus 1 (the foreign-owned Stellantis), the ability to actually build BEVs at a decent profit is not only suspect, it is plainly a pipe dream that has been heavily exacerbated by the new contracts being settled with the UAW. (Ford has already said that the new contract with the UAW will add between $800 – $900 to the cost of each vehicle it makes.)
Multiple BEV programs at Ford and GM have been postponed again, with the ugly reality being that mass production of more mainstream – as in affordable – BEVs will not happen until 2026 at the earliest. (For the record, the manufacturers are saying 2025, but who is kidding whom, here? It’s simply notgonnahappendotcom.)
Yes, the new contracts with the UAW have put paid to the notion that what’s left of the Detroit 2 plus 1 can actually compete against BEVs from the Koreans, the Chinese and St. Elon’s Tesla Discount Store, but that’s not the sole reason. American car-buying consumers are simply not on board with the “Grand Transition.” Early adopters and so-called “more enlightened” consumers have embraced the electrified Future, spending boatloads of money on six-figure+ “show pony” BEVs, but that’s what I refer to as the BEV “1-percenters,” people with the kind of disposable income – and access to advantageous charging systems – to actually sustain BEV ownership.
But again, that’s not the reality for mainstream American car-buying consumers. Those “show-pony” trucks and SUV BEVs are so far removed from the day-to-day reality for people wrestling with the wildly inflated car payments of the current car-buying environment that BEVs don’t even remotely register on the consideration scale. It doesn’t really matter that the swells in the enlightened enclaves are embracing an Electrified Future, because mainstream consumers associate two primary things with BEVs:
1. BEVs cost too damn much. This is no joke. No matter that certain manufacturers can point to the ever-growing affordability of their BEVs (primarily the Korean car companies and soon, the Chinese), the perception that BEVs just aren’t affordable is permanently etched in the car-buying public’s brains. And the most important and powerful form of advertising extant – word-of-mouth – reaffirms this perception every damn day. Auto marketers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars on their “show-pony” BEVs, displaying their trick features and impressive capabilities, but it has gone for naught when it comes to influencing the average car-buying consumer. Imagine where GM would be right now if it had spent even half the marketing budget they allotted to the GMC Hummer and Cadillac Lyriq on its eminently affordable Chevrolet Bolt. I can assure you GM wouldn’t be stopping Bolt production at the end of the year while waiting to replace its batteries with its Ultium BEV technology. Instead, the new-generation Bolt would already be here. Can the “not-affordable” perception of BEVs be changed? Not as long as there are $90,000 F-150s and $100,000+ Hummers being marketed. The auto manufacturers need to seriously educate the consumer as to the What, How and Why of BEVs before they spend one more dollar on marketing another BEV “show pony.” Until they come to grips with that, it’s going to be a long, hard road to get to the BEV Promised Land.
2. BEVs are inconvenient. It’s one thing to have an enhanced charging system for your $100,000+ “show pony” BEV safely ensconced in your seven-figure crib in some idyllic suburb; it’s quite another to live in an apartment or even a real-world home where you’re faced with charging questions every single day. No matter how many articles appear about the plethora of charging stations being built over the next few years, the problems with locating charging stations right now are manifold. The common refrain I hear from readers and friends is this: “They’re either not working at all, or they’re not charging at an acceptable rate. It’s a nightmare, basically.” (I recall recently reading about an F-150 BEV owner who was so fed up with trying to deal with the charging issues he’s encountered that he’s trading the truck in for an ICE F-150. This is not an isolated occurrence either.) This does not bode well for the “Grand Transition” in the least. And it contributes mightily to the negative perceptions associated with BEVs. There are no “finger snap” solutions to this. Expanding the BEV charging network across the country is one thing, but it doesn’t count for much if these charging stations are not properly maintained.
So, here we are. The “Grand Transition” to BEVs has been paused. No, let me clarify that, it has been put on hold. Yes, the pronouncements being made by the various CEOs that “the plan” continues unabated are all noteworthy and fine, and they might really believe those statements too. But right now, the smart automobile companies are investing in ICE programs and/with hybrids.
It didn’t garner much mention earlier this year when GM announced it was completely reengineering/reinvigorating its V8 engines. Some lesser lights in the media peanut gallery dismissed the move as being the last gasp from a fading auto company. I, on the other hand, viewed it as not only a necessary move, but a shrewd one too. And lo and behold, that’s exactly what it is, because ICE-powered vehicles will be around for decades to come.
In case you’re wondering, the hard-ass development work on BEVs will continue behind the scenes, because the engineering and technological commitment by the collective automobile companies is massive and unrelenting.
But there’s one more ugly reality to all of this: BEVs are not going to take over this nation’s fleet, much to the chagrin of certain individuals who are convinced otherwise. BEVs will be only part of the solution, along with ICE and hybrid vehicles, fuel cells with hydrogen, and propulsion systems we haven’t even thought of yet.
No, the “Grand Transition” to BEVs will not be televised; there’s still too much work to do.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
Editor’s Note: Click on “Next 1 Entries” at the bottom of this page to see previous issues. – WG