The Big Carmakers Enter the Electric Era With Splashes of Color and Excitement
The big carmakers are entering the electric era with splashes of color and excitement. Toyota, for example, may have the best looking EV in the world with its 2024 bZ4X concept.
GM entered the EV era with its EV1 in the late 1990s but didn’t make money. EV2 arrived in 2017. In 2022, Mercedes will debut its first EV designed from the ground up, the large EQS sedan.
In 2019, GM’s Chevy Bolt electric car received a new range boost to 259 miles, making it the most affordable EV on the market. GM’s announcement that it will produce an additional 200,000 Bolts over the next several years should calm investors who had been jittery about the company’s ability to catch up to Tesla, which now has more than 3 million vehicles on the road.
In 1996, GM debuted an experimental vehicle called the EV1 at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It was the first battery electric vehicle marketed to consumers. The company invested more than $1 billion in the program and sold 800 EV1s over four years of availability. Despite a waiting list of applicants, many EV1 enthusiasts felt that the company showed little interest in continuing the program.
The EV1 showcased a variety of new technologies that would eventually appear in other GM and other manufacturers’ cars. These included an aluminum frame, plastic body panels and a lightweight, dent-resistant drivetrain. It also introduced anti-lock brakes and a traction control system.
GM CEO Mary Barra has said that if she had known then what she knows now about the potential of electric vehicles, she wouldn’t have chinese electric car company canceled the EV1 project. She has promised that GM will invest $27 billion in electric vehicles and related infrastructure over the next decade, outstripping its spending on conventional gasoline-powered cars.
Nissan (NQO) ushered in the modern mainstream electric car industry with the Leaf over a decade ago and still sells an impressive amount of its models. It also makes a good-looking, high-performance 2023 Ariya SUV. And while the brand’s reliability took a hit in recent years, it’s working to get back on track with new battery-powered options including a redesigned Rogue and Pathfinder SUV.
But established automakers are racing to adapt at a huge cost, and it’s unclear if they’ll be able to close the gap on Tesla and an emerging crop of Chinese EV makers. Their multi-billion-dollar spending plans are already being slashed by semiconductor shortages and supply chain snafus. Plus, their EVs are losing money, and those margins may shrink further if striking workers at Ford (F), General Motors (GM) and a host of other companies win improved pay deals.
Those losses could worsen if Beijing continues to impose protectionist controls on raw materials critical to EV production, as it recently did with rare electric car makers earths. That’s especially true for global players with significant China exposure, like Volkswagen (VW) and Toyota (TM). “The Big Three are going to be in the red when it comes to EVs for two-plus years,” says Munster of Deepwater. “And they’ll be even further behind Tesla.””
Kia isn’t the brand most people think of when they buy an electric car, but that might be changing. The South Korean manufacturer’s 2023 and 2024 lineup features a variety of models that stand toe-to-toe with competitors in terms of styling and technology.
Kia’s electric vehicle offerings range from a small sedan that offers great value to an SUV that can seat up to three passengers. Some of the vehicles feature a sleek design, while others offer impressive road performance and a driving range that can exceed 300 miles.
The Kia EV9 is the most recent addition to Kia’s lineup of electric vehicles. The rear-drive Standard model has a single electric motor with 215 horsepower, while the Long Range and all-wheel-drive variants have a dual-motor setup that produces a combined 379 hp. The EV9 can hit 62 mph in a leisurely 8.2 seconds, but a Boost mode increases the power and torque to deliver a quicker response.
Kia’s EV9 is the first Kia vehicle to use its new telematics system, which includes a built-in navigation system and a smartphone app that lets drivers monitor their electric vehicle’s status. The system also allows drivers to track their driving habits and see how much energy they’re consuming. Its advanced driver assistance systems help the EV9 stay safe on the highway, too. For example, the Kia EV9’s Highway Driving Assist helps keep the Telluride centered in its lane rather than ping-ponging from side to side.
Acura has a reputation for building fun cars that are a bit less expensive than its competitors. It’s an image that the brand is doubling down on as it moves to become solely an electric vehicle maker. The company will begin taking orders for its first EV, the ZDX, this fall ahead of its 2024 on-sale date. Buyers can complete the whole transaction online, which is a major step forward for the brand. The car will be built in collaboration with General Motors, and it will share a lot of its key specs with the Cadillac Lyriq and other GM-built electric SUVs.
Honda has a plan to shift all of its North American sales to battery and fuel cell electric vehicles by 2040, so the ZDX is just the beginning for the brand. Joseph tells PopSci that the brand is also planning to start pilot production of solid-state batteries, which will be safer, denser, and less sensitive to temperature changes. This will allow future EVs to have larger capacities while still fitting into the same footprint as their gas-powered counterparts.
There’s also hope for those fans of the NSX, as Honda offered a sneak peek at a Concept called the Performance Electric Vision Design Study at Monterey Car Week. The sketches suggest a third-generation model that will be an all-electric supercar.