DETROIT: At the 2010 North American International Auto Show, electric and hybrid vehicles grabbed the headlines. Fast-forward three years, and electric vehicles played a minor role at the Detroit event that saw performance and luxury vehicles steal the spotlight.
“The non-issue of this show is that no one’s talking about electric,” observed Dennis DesRosiers, industry analyst. “The fact of the matter is electric is an infant technology that probably won’t have any significant, true momentum in our industry for at least another decade and more likely two.”
DesRosiers’s view is reflected in a recent KPMG survey of 200 senior automotive executives around the globe that found electric vehicles won’t make up more than 15 per cent of worldwide sales before 2025. It also indicated that automakers plan to spend most of their research and development dollars on improving the internal combustion engine.
“The economics of EVs are not there,” said Gary Silberg, national automotive industry leader for KPMG LLP. “They’re very expensive and for the most part, the consumer has so many other choices. It’s difficult for them to choose an EV, when they could buy a hybrid or gasoline engine vehicle for less money and better performance.”
The Chevy Volt compact sedan, for example, starts at $42,000 (minus the $8,231 Ontario government rebate) while a fully-loaded, top-of-the line Toyota Corolla sells for about $25,000.
Electric vehicle sales are rising, but not enough to distract automakers from the internal combustion engine. In 2011, U.S. car buyers took home about 17,500 plug-in electric cars. Last year, that number rose to 53,000 electric vehicles.
“The internal combustion engine has a long way to go,” said Dave Buckingham, chief operating officer at Chrysler Canada. “There’s no doubt we continue to get more miles per gallon. When you look at the Jeep Grand Cherokee we just launched with the 3.6 litre Pentastar engine that now gets 36 miles per gallon because it’s mated to an eight-speed transmission. That’s a 10 per cent fuel economy improvement.”
At Ford Motor Co., electric vehicles will continue to be part of the automaker’s product portfolio although its focus remains on improving traditional powertrains, said Richard Truett, powertrain communications manager.
“For the foreseeable future, the internal combustion engine will stick around,” said Truett. “It’s getting more and more efficient, but there’s not one answer for every consumer. Our strategy is to make all these different types of powertrains and make them so whatever powertrain you want, you can choose for yourself.”
However, “for the foreseeable future the gasoline engine will continue to be the engine of choice,” he said. Ford’s “mission is to reduce the size of the engine” with out sacrificing performance.
“When the gasoline engine improves it makes it harder for the electrified vehicles to compete,” added Truett. “But electric technology is moving very quickly and there could be a breakthrough tomorrow that we have a battery that delivers 500 miles of range.”