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If We Want More EV Acceptance, Manufacturers Have to Think Small

If manufacturers are truly serious about widening the appeal of electric vehicles, the market could use more Nissan LEAF and Hyundai Kona electrics. Remember, our current dependence on the automobile was built on the back of everyman’s Ford Model T and not the wealthy’s Cadillac.
Many of the makers committing themselves to a major shift toward electric vehicles are mostly luxury brands. And, as we’ve so far seen, volume manufacturers introducing electrics seem to be skewing their efforts toward a more well-heeled clientele. Given the higher costs of current electric vehicle technology, it’s understandable.

Still, within recent launches of high-dollar electric cars, trucks and SUVs are echoes of the large, flashy cars with big fins and massive chrome bumpers that marked the end of the 1950s. It wasn’t until an imported air-cooled economy car called the Volkswagen Beetle with an ad tagline suggesting that we “Think Small” that affordability took center stage.  Perhaps manufacturers need to take a step back and think small to provide electric alternatives for average car buyers.

The key to affordability is to get over the relentless push to increase range to 600 miles or more on a charge. Unlike a traditional car, where you can make a tank bigger at minimal costs (in fact, on gas cars it’s more a question of space than cost), increasing range from bigger batteries comes at a huge cost in electric vehicles.

Of course, work should continue to improve current technology to make battery packs that are more compact and lighter while delivering greater range. But the expectations should be for incremental steps rather than quantum leaps. It’s a question of adjusting expectations to align with affordability.

Thinking small in the EV space may mean going only 200 miles or so on a charge, rather than having to pay a hefty premium to go twice as far. If there are improvements both in the speed and availability of DC charging, that sacrifice in range won’t matter much if it takes less than 10 minutes to get an 80 percent of that distance back.

Battery electrics have already proved that they can meet the needs of many in a wide range of applications in both urban and suburban settings. Manufacturers like Nissan, Hyundai, Kia, and Chevrolet have demonstrated that they can build and sell electric vehicles for less than $40,000, with more on the way.

Chevrolet is promising an electric version of its Equinox priced at $30,000. Recently, General Motors announced a tie-up with Honda where the auto giant will supply its Ultium battery technology to the Japanese make. Honda, in turn, would build the smaller and more affordable electric cars and SUVs for both companies to sell starting as early as 2027.

Electric cars are not a transportation panacea. But rather they offer yet another solution to meet the everyday needs for personal mobility. While electric cars will take a greater share of overall sales, they will not totally replace internal combustion vehicles in the foreseeable future. An argument can be made for both and understanding the differences and how best each can serve your needs is the key to making the right purchase decision. 
Make no mistake, electrification of the automobile is here. The success of EVs, however, will not be because of some lofty pronouncement of an all-electric future by a manufacturer or politician, but rather by the decisions made by car buyers in the market. In the end, the true measure of success is that if there are enough electrics cars on the market priced right to appeal to the tightwad in all of us. 


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