Will Mainstream Manufacturers Win The EV Wars?

Opinion

Traditional motor manufacturers are ready to fight trend-setting Tesla.

Unless something changes drastically, EVs are the future of mobility. While hybrids provide a stepping stone and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles seem plausible, the moment battery technology improves, EVs will be able to do everything a traditional car can, and more, with less of an impact on the environment.

As we sit on the cusp of the next great EV technological leap, and as everybody scrambles to provide an electric offering, which of the mainstream manufacturers are closest to breaking through the EV glass ceiling?

Tesla, a company already established in the EV game, provides the benchmark against which we measure all others. So how do traditional motor manufacturer size up, and which will be the most competitive?

The Ones That Don’t Count…Yet

Off the bat, we can strike several manufacturers off the list. Manufacturers that currently don’t produce EVs automatically don’t qualify to be here, so the likes of Alfa Romeo, Mazda, Buick, Cadillac, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, Mitsubishi and more are lagging far behind the rest of the pack. These are all manufacturers that need a wake-up call. Many produce vehicles on aging architectures, which in itself is problematic, and the fact they don’t seem to have even an eye on electrification at all is frankly worrying.

There are others who do produce some form of EV, yet still fall into the category of barely counting in the EV game. Manufacturers like Ford and Fiat produce EVs – the Fiat 500e and Ford Focus Electric are fully electric alternatives – but they’re contingency plans made to merely take part. Both are half-hearted efforts and highly flawed pieces of equipment.

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Fiat knew from the get-go that the 500e wasn’t viable, but produced it anyway merely to have an EV offering in eco-conscious states. The late Sergio Marchionne once remarked, “I hope you don’t buy it because every time I sell one it costs me $14,000. I’m honest enough to tell you that. I will sell the (minimum) of what I need to sell and not one more.”

By his own admission, the 500e didn’t fit in with product plans and was a model the company was forced to make. Speaking to Bloomberg, Marchionne stated, “because of the time frame chosen in Europe...we have to electrify. The biggest fear that I see is that we will be left behind.”

Unfortunately for Fiat, despite the 500e existing, Fiat is still being left behind, and it doesn't seem to have any current plans to play catch-up.

Ford, on the other hand, is making some strides electrically. Though the Focus Electric is well behind the times, Ford has already disclosed plans to pursue an electric future. The ‘Mach 1’, as Ford originally touted it, might be treading on hallowed turf in the naming stakes, but it’s Ford’s commitment to producing a genuine EV on a purpose-built architecture, with big potential for a performance version in the works too – it is, after all, a ‘Mustang-inspired’ utility vehicle.

Fiat might be behind the times, but Ford at least has plans to make the leap into territory unknown.

Serious About Electric Mobility

There are, however, several manufacturers that have committed wholeheartedly to producing quality EVs built on platforms developed with electrification in mind, rather than retrofitting existing platforms with electric running gear.

Nissan immediately springs to mind as an early pioneer. The Leaf was one of the first purpose-built EVs on the market, and while it may not have rattled many cages to start – EV technology was in its infancy – the current generation Leaf has taken great strides. Though it’s not available just yet, Nissan will be releasing a 60kWh Leaf with an electric range of 200 miles for 2019, taking electric mobility to within touching distance of combustion-driven vehicle range. At this stage though, that’s all it plans on offering.

Honda has since come along with the Clarity EV. While purpose-built as an electric car, with a potent 161 horsepower electric motor setup, the electric range of just 80-miles is somewhat substandard. When Tesla offers up to 335 miles on a full charge, 80 seems quite paltry by comparison.

BMW is another manufacturer with just one full EV to its name. The i3 was BMW’s attempt at proverbially dipping its toes in the water. Though a maximum range of 114 miles is still below industry standards, BMW was an early pioneer of electric mobility and pioneered mass-produced carbon fiber for its ‘i’ range of vehicles. \\

While only one vehicle currently populates its EV line-up, more are on the way, with an iX3 crossover being the next. As an early pioneer, it’s highly likely that BMW’s next generation of EVs will take a substantial leap, with range and charge times being the biggest improvements.

Volvo may not currently have any full-EV models on sale, but the brand has committed to an electric future, with all models featuring some form of electrification, and the Polestar sub-brand dedicated to creating performance EVs. We have high hopes for Polestar, but until such time as they launch any product, they’re not quite leading the pack just yet.

Leading The EV Pack

So, who are the current class leaders, the ones gaining momentum with the potential to chase down Tesla?

Mercedes-Benz may have only just unveiled the EQC electric SUV, but the carmaker has been toying with EVs for a while now. We’re not talking about the SLS AMG E-Cell, but rather the Smart car, which is now offered exclusively in electric drive guise in the US.

The EQC, of course, represents a vast leap forward, offering up to 279 miles on a single charge – give or take a little when it’s tested using the WLTP system – and making use of an 80-kWh battery pack. It marks the first of many full electric Mercs to come, but the brand is still facing a couple of ‘problems’. The company has already voiced concerns about warranty costs and reliability of a new EV platform for the customer, but the biggest issue facing Mercedes, and other EV manufacturers, is charge time. Even with a DC fast charger, it still takes 40 minutes to gain 80% charge, which, when compared to filling up with gasoline or hydrogen, is a major inconvenience.

Jaguar is in the same boat to a large extent. For a brand that was once way behind the times, the British carmaker has gone headlong into the EV game with the I-Pace, based on an all-new electric architecture and with some pretty impressive performance to boot. Not only can the I-Pace rack up nearly 300 miles on a single charge, but 0-60 mph takes less than 4.8 seconds. This is an impressive first attempt at an EV and shows Jaguar’s strong intentions in the EV game. Jaguar has even established a one-make racing series featuring the I-Pace, to prove its tech is capable in all areas.

Audi has long toyed with the idea of electric mobility – its Le Mans exploits served as a testbed for much of the technology. Now, the brand has launched its first fully-fledged EV to the market, with the e-tron crossover. Much like Jaguar and Mercedes-Benz, the biggest problem isn’t range – 300 miles on a single charge being more than acceptable – but charge time, with even a fast-charge taking 30 minutes for an 80% charge.

Hyundai has done the seemingly impossible, by building an EV that has better electric MPG equivalence than Tesla. But the Ioniq EV only has a claimed 124-mile range. The Kona electric SUV, however, offers a range of 258 miles on a full charge, and while charging is still problematic, Hyundai is offering more electric product than anyone else right now.

Which leaves just two leaders of the electric segment that pose the biggest threat to Tesla. The forthcoming Porsche Taycan is the final product of Porsche’s Mission E venture, and presents a huge leap forward technologically. Using the same electric motor setup as its Le Mans racer, the Taycan generates more than 600 horsepower, can drive more than 310 miles on a full charge, and the kicker, thanks to 800-volt charging technology, the Taycan can charge up to 248-miles worth of range in just 15 minutes, thus overcoming the last major issue facing EVs.

Likewise, Chevrolet has seemingly overcome all odds. The Bolt EV is far more accessible than the Taycan will be for the layman, naturally, and offers 200 horsepower and up to 238 miles on a single charge. It’s beaten Tesla to the compact EV punch, offering impressive range and performance in an accessible, more affordable package. But the most important reason why we’ve left Chevrolet ‘til last on this list is that its working on a fast-charging system that beats even Porsche’s 15 minute charge – up to 180 miles range on just a 10-minute charge.

While it’s marginally slower than filling up with gas, it’s as good as it gets for EVs right now. Furthermore, the brand is reportedly readying 20 EVs for launch by the year 2023.

By overcoming issues facing range, charge times, and affordability, Chevrolet has become a mainstream manufacturer capable of rivaling the established EV elite.

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