Instead of Nearly 10k-Pound Trucks, America Might Be Better Off With Smaller EVs

Renault 5 E-Tech discussion about America 11 photos
Photo: Renault, MINI, GMC, Fiat
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As slow selling as it is obscenely excessive in every direction, the GMC Hummer EV personifies everything that is currently wrong with America's EVs. No worries, there are solutions – albeit it's tricky to implement them.
Suppose there's any need to demonstrate GM's struggles with implementing its Ultium EV strategy. In that case, the sales data from 2023 is more than likely to get you laughing when thinking about Mary Barra and other corner office head honcho promises about overtaking Tesla. In fact, GM only sold close to 76k electric vehicles in the United States in the entire 12 months of 2023! For comparison, Tesla's Model 3 reached an estimate of almost 233k units.

But the EV sedan only placed twelfth on the best-selling nameplate chart, whereas the Tesla Model Y champion was fifth and almost tallied an estimated 386k units! If these figures are too much for GM to comprehend, Ford delivered a little over 24k Lightnings to Ford F-150 fans who didn't mind switching to battery power, up 55% from 2022. Meanwhile, GM delivered a grand total of 3,244 GMC Hummer EV units, both pickups and SUVs!

However, things are not looking great for anyone who isn't working for Tesla but is involved in the EV automotive field. Just as everyone starts to ramp up production, from Chinese automakers trying to enter new markets like the Old Continent to American startups like Rivian or Lucid, demand is slowing for electric cars, and the floor is slipping away from under anyone isn't prepared for single-digit growth instead of triple-digit jumps.

The big problem is that after the big scare caused by the sudden war that broke in Europe two years ago and by the never-ending production hiccups caused by uncertainty and problems across the supply chain, people are now left with higher interest rates, massive inflation, and bigger monthly payments on EVs that were already expensive. For example, the GMC Hummer EV is a behemoth both in terms of MSRPs and weight – it crosses the 9,600-pound mark fully loaded with all the goodies, and the current starting price for both the pickup truck and SUV is no less than $96,550.

The only one that probably isn't affected by all these factors is Tesla – they bore the brunt of being an early adopter in the EV field and now have the necessary economies of scale to lower their prices, produce EVs more efficiently and closer to their intended markets, and still make them enticing even when cutting various corners. In fact, Elon Musk is now more preoccupied with the upcoming arrival of the Tesla Roadster 2.0, with an alleged time to 60 mph (96 kph) in less than one second (!) than with the fabled $25k (or around) affordable Tesla, showing confidence that it can withstand the market slowdown without needing a dirt-cheap vehicle to prop sales.

While I used the GMC Hummer EV twins as an extreme example of what's wrong with the OEM American EV market at the moment, the startups are obviously affected as well because they don't have a variety of popular models like Tesla. Also, there's no financial security to make them. At least the Rivian R2 models are coming soon, and hopefully, they will be smaller, nimbler, and more affordable compared to the R1T and R1S, while Lucid's Gravity is currently in the same situation as was Tesla years ago when they introduced the Model X alongside Model S. If you don't mind, we would like to share our two cents on the matter, as the situation doesn't need to be saved by yet another Tesla EV.

Instead, I think that before Tesla comes out with that $25k Model 2 or whatever it's called and takes full and ultimate command of the EV market, legacy automakers could mitigate its Apple iPhone-like control of the novel EV lifestyle with smaller and cheaper lifestyle models. One step forward in that direction was recently made by Stellantis when it started production in Turin, Italy, the 2024 Fiat 500e for North America. It will be joined soon by the all-new STLA Large-based Dodge Charger Daytona, but that's a niche product and I have an immense feeling that if the rumors pan out and Stellantis allows it to also use the 3.0-liter Hurricane inline-six turbo mills with 420 hp and 540 hp like in the 2025 Ram 1500, they will outsell the Daytona EV version like there's no tomorrow.

There might not be one if we don't start to become more sustainable, but that's a discussion for another time – about how we should think about the production chain of those EVs, where we source our charging power, and even about simple things like trying to recycle as many things as possible, especially paper and plastic, but other stuff too. Instead, let me give you another extreme example of how smaller EVs could be perfect for increasing zero-emission vehicle adoption, especially in crowded cities. Just recently, Renault went to the 2024 Geneva Motor Show with the Renault 5 E-Tech, an EV revival of the iconic model from the 1970s through the 1990s. Sure, Renault doesn't exist in North America anymore, but here me out on this particular model.

The original R5 was sold in both America and Canada from 1976 until 1983, so there's already a fanbase that still remembers the cool little car from yesteryear. Additionally, now the EV revival just goes to prove that good things come in small packages, especially when they're so fashionable as to include a French baguette accessory! In fact, this chic EV has good specifications to compliment the cool design, and Renault wants to sell it for 25k euros, the equivalent of around $27k! Once known as 'Le Car' in the United States, the supermini is officially back on the Old Continent as GIMS's biggest debut this year – though only figuratively.

As for dimensions, those are petite, indeed. It's 154.3 inches (3.92 m) long, 69.7 inches (1.77 m) wide, and 59 inches (1.5 m) tall, and also comes with a wheelbase of 100.0 inches (2.54 meters) plus an 11.5 cubic feet (326 liters) cargo capacity plus big 18-inch wheels. Built on the new Renault–Nissan Common Module Family, the CMF–B EV / AmpR Small platform, this is the French answer to the British-German MINI Cooper E and SE, with a low center of gravity and a weight of no more than 1,500 kg or 3,307 pounds for the model with the larger 52-kWh battery pack. There's just about everything on board, from Jean-Michel Jarre's sounds (!) to a new AC bidirectional charger compatible with V2L (vehicle-to-load) and V2G (vehicle-to-grid) setups, Level 2 automated driving technology, and a 10.1-inch multimedia touchscreen featuring the Renault OpenR Link system with Google built-in.

At least in Europe, customers can opt for three powertrain versions – 70, 90, and 110 kW (94, 121, and 148 hp), and the battery provides a maximum range of up to 400 km/249 miles (WLTP) with recharging options at 11 kW (AC) or up to 100 kW at DC stations. The only problem I foresee is that Renault might hit some snags at the Douai Gigafactory in France before or when it wants to start production during the summer of 2025. However, if this model proves successful, I would seriously advise them to consider a return to the US market – with help from Nissan, it would be the easiest because of their group ties. I know that might be a long stretch, but it's possible that ICE power and EVs might coexist for a more extended period than previously anticipated, and small battery-powered models could prove adamant to more sustainable trips around town and the suburbs. What do you think? Should Renault try to come back to America with the Renault 5 E-Tech?

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About the author: Aurel Niculescu
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Aurel has aimed high all his life (literally, at 16 he was flying gliders all by himself) so in 2006 he switched careers and got hired as a writer at his favorite magazine. Since then, his work has been published both by print and online outlets, most recently right here, on autoevolution.
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