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Automakers Emphasize Choice Amid Push to Electrification

Written by on February 16, 2023

The average price for a new vehicle in the United States soared above $49,000 in December, a record high.

With Americans increasingly price conscious at a time of high inflation and elevated interest rates, customer choice is a prominent theme at the 2023 Chicago Auto Show, the largest and longest-running auto show in North America.

A launchpad for manufacturers to showcase their latest offerings, previous auto shows have highlighted battery powered electric vehicles — commonly known as EVs and BEVs — that herald a carbon-free future for ground transportation.

While many EVs are also on display this year, manufacturers want customers to know they still have other options.

“We believe it shouldn’t be just one formula,” said Toyota regional manager Curt McAllister, noting that the company’s current product lineup, a mix of electric and gas-powered automobiles, reflects customer feedback. “Our customers are telling us they want choices. They just don’t want us to try to pigeonhole them into one subset.”

 

A Toyota concept electric vehicle sits on display at the Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 9, 2023.
A Toyota concept electric vehicle sits on display at the Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 9, 2023.

 

Which is why Toyota is profiling a fifth-generation Prius, a best-selling hybrid that uses both a battery and a gasoline-powered engine.

“We now have 21 hybrids across Toyota and Lexus,” said McAllister. “So it’s a big part of our carbon neutrality message.”

McAllister said Toyota isn’t ignoring the rapidly growing but more expensive battery powered electric vehicle market. “We know that BEVs are part of the future, but we want to make sure that we have something that not only makes sense but makes sense for their pocketbook.”

Though overall car sales down, EV sales up

Higher interest rates for car loans in 2022 slowed new vehicle purchases, marking the first drop in sales in a decade, even as carmakers worked to overcome supply chain problems such as shortages of microchips.

Even so, the number of EVs sold increased by about 65% from a year earlier, according to research firm Motor Intelligence. EVs made up nearly 6% of all new vehicles sold in the U.S. last year.

Despite recent price cuts for some electric vehicles that make them more competitive with gasoline-powered cars, many Americans remain reluctant to purchase battery powered electric vehicles.

One primary obstacle is what’s known as “range anxiety” — the concern about how far a vehicle can travel before having to recharge in a nation where gas stations still outnumber charging stations.

“Our customer base, some of them are not ready for EVs,” explained Chad Lyons, who is representing General Motors Chevrolet brand at the Chicago Auto Show. “So, actually our plan for the next five years is to offer EVs for those that are ready … but at the same time offer gas-powered vehicles for those that are not ready.”

 

The 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray sits on display at the Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 9, 2023.
The 2024 Chevrolet Corvette E-Ray sits on display at the Chicago Auto Show, Feb. 9, 2023.

 

Lyons said demand for gas-powered sedans has plummeted. As a result, his company’s lineup is focused on sport utility vehicles — commonly known as SUVs — including the redesigned gasoline-powered Trax compact SUV launching later this year, and priced similarly to Chevrolet’s sedans.

“People want vehicles that are higher up [higher riding] — that’s why you see so many SUVs right now being so popular,” he said.

‘The jelly bean proportion’

That preference is also reflected in Chevrolet’s electric vehicle lineup. Later this year, the brand will roll out two new SUV EVs, the Equinox and Blazer, and the choices don’t end there.

“Pickup trucks are the heart of America, and so we are going to offer the Silverado EV as well,” said Lyons.

“Everyone loves muscle cars,” said Dodge design manager Deyan Ninov, adding that customers want vehicles that look less electric and more classic. “I think if you look at all the electric cars out there right now, they all sort of look the same, they all have the same feeling and character they kind of have the same proportions — the jelly bean proportion.”

Ninov’s team has been working on an electric version of Dodge’s iconic Challenger, hoping to bring the “muscle car experience” to the battery-powered vehicle segment.

While manufacturers continue to emphasize choice, President Joe Biden has outlined a plan to ensure 50% of all vehicles on the road by 2030 are all electric. As a number of states consider mandates for electric vehicle adoption, California is leading the way, requiring all new vehicles sold in the state to be electric or hydrogen powered by 2035.

 

Kane Farabaugh


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