Automakers and suppliers of automotive technology are making big moves toward transforming the very nature of vehicles and the amount of fuel they consume. Electric vehicles and self-driving cars are gaining strong support from investors, venture partners, government officials, shareholders, and customers.
But how close are we to seeing these electrified, autonomous, advanced vehicles on our roads? Carmakers have embraced ambitious electric vehicle targets, and autonomous vehicles are expected to take a step forward next year in an instrumental U.S. market.
Last year, automakers were surprised to see Tesla take nearly 400,000 pre-order down payments for its upcoming Model 3 electric car. That move, along with increasing government pressure in the post-“Dieselgate” environment, spurred competitors to commit to ambitious, capital-intensive EV targets over the next decade. China is also playing a pivotal role in automakers adding several EVs to their product pipelines. Government mandates are expected to be announced soon that could eventually ban the sale of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles in the coming decades in that market.
Volkswagen was the first traditional automaker to plunge in, kicking off its all-electric ID platform with a concept hatchback sedan at last year’s Paris Motor Show. That was followed this year by the unveilings of the ID Buzz microbus concept and the ID Crozz sport utility concept vehicle. The German automaker will start with the ID hatchback sedan being launched in 2020, along with a refreshed Golf electric variation that same year.
The company has set the goal of selling one million EVs with the VW badge by 2025. That would even out the playing field with Tesla, which is ramping up to build a million units per year by 2020.
VW’s Audi and Porsche brands have been moving forward on their own EV model launches, including Audi e-tron models and high performance Porsche Mission E electric sports cars.
Last month, German competitor Daimler’s chief Dieter Zetsche said its Mercedes-Benz division will offer electric versions of all its models by 2022. That follows a move made last year during the Paris auto show when the company announced that it would launch at least 10 new models under its new EQ brand of luxury EVs. Zetsche said last year that the company expects EVs will make up 15 percent to 25 percent of its total vehicle sales by 2025.
Daimler’s Smart small city car brand will become fully electric by 2022.
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Last month, Mercedes-Benz revealed the Concept EQ A electric vehicle, which fits into the company’s A-Class crossover SUV platform.
In July, BMW updated its Number One > Next campaign, announcing that all its brands and model series will offer all-electric or plug-in hybrid variations in addition to the internal combustion engine option. New EV models will be come to market soon and beyond 2020. They’ll be built on BMW’s next generation vehicle architecture made for all-electric vehicles. One will be the futuristic i Next electric crossover, available in 2021. The i Vision Dynamics concept vehicle was revealed last month in Frankfurt, and it may be later launched as the BMW i5.
BMW’s Mini brand will start production during 2019 of a battery electric variation of its core 3-door model.
Volvo made a big splash in July by announcing that every Volvo it launches from 2019 will have an electric motor, appearing as all-electric cars, plug in hybrids, and hybrid powertrain options. That makes for an historic mark for the company that will no longer offers vehicles that only have an internal-combustion engine.
On the luxury vehicle side, Aston Martin, and Jaguar Land Rover have announced similar moves in recent months.
General Motors, known for launching the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid in late 2010 and the all-electric 238-mile range Chevrolet Bolt in late 2016, is making a much larger move. Two new battery electric vehicles will be launched next year, with at least 18 more coming out by 2023.
Ford has set up a dedicated electrification team to deliver 13 electrified vehicles over the next five years. Seven have been announced, including a 300-mile range crossover EV that will come out in 2020. New electrified vehicles will include an F-150 Hybrid, Mustang Hybrid, Transit Custom plug-in hybrid, an autonomous vehicle hybrid, and a Ford Police Responder hybrid sedan.
In late September, Toyota made another move away from its previous commitment to prioritize hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and hybrids. The Japanese automaker, along with Mazda and auto parts supplier Denso, will be jointly forming a new company, EV C.A. Spirit, to develop electric vehicles.
New production electric models are expected to come out in 2019 and 2020. Toyota will own 90 percent of the new company, and Mazda and auto parts supplier Denso will split the remaining 10 percent. Last year, Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda announced he will lead a group of executives overseeing upcoming all-electric vehicle launches.
Honda Motor Co. plans to unveil EVs to global markets, and committed to launch fully self-driving cars around 2025.
Nearly all of the major global automakers have committed to launching EV models in the near future, but autonomous vehicle technology has become an even higher priority for some of the companies.
Autonomous vehicle technology has witnessed a wave of enthusiasm and corporate alliances in the past three years – soon after Google announced its self-driving car project would be testing concept cars built in-house. Self-driving cars have had an even bigger barrier to surpass than EVs – gaining government approval to have large numbers of the cars allowed to drive on its public roads.
In the U.S., Nevada, California, Arizona, and Michigan have been pivotal markets for testing autonomous vehicles. Regulators have watched to see how safe the automated vehicles have been, and how realistic it will be to introduce them to the public in the next few years.
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California may see the technology boldly step forward. The state’s Department of Motor Vehicles has issued proposed rules that would allow fully autonomous vehicles, without backup drivers, to be on its public roads by June or earlier next year. A few minor revisions have been added to a previous draft, such as requiring manufacturers to notify local governments that they would like to test autonomous vehicles in their cities.
Emerging self-driving car technology, which includes LiDAR sensors, faces a few challenges to be addressed before seeing mass-market production. EVs have their own set of issues to address, including extending per-charge range, reducing the cost of battery packs, and seeing a pervasive network of charging stations. Sales of EVs are seeing impressive growth rates, but still represent a very small percentage of global auto sales. Reaching a quarter of total sales will take EVs much longer than 2025 to hit the mark.
Automakers and companies such as Google and Apple speak as if self-driving cars will become common on public roads in the near future. However, until vehicle safety and liability issues are effectively addressed, the technology will stay in the pre-production test phase.
By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com