Gordon Rodda

Ten Big EV Developments That Transpired During Covid (2020 – mid 2021)

1) Tesla sales soared globally and nationally, jump-starting the EV revolution and attracting big investments in EV companies. Tesla dominates the global market for BEVs; no other manufacturer has even a fifth of the global sales of Tesla. At one point Tesla’s model 3 sales in California made it the single most popular new vehicle model bar none. As Tesla stock soared in price (at one point giving Tesla a market valuation greater than that of all the legacy car manufacturers combined), investors sought out other firms in which to plunk their money. Rivian raised several billion in new funds. Other investors were not so lucky. Nicola apparently fudged the numbers and collapsed after the Securities and Exchange Commission went after them. Lordstown fibbed when they said they were ready to begin sales, and its stock also collapsed, in part because Ford announced that Ford was to market to exactly the same niche market (electrical utility fleets) that Lordstown had bet its future on.

2) The major legacy car manufacturers got into a publicity arms race over promises about the future of EVs, but didn’t actually produce many. Most announced they were going to spend X dollars pursuing electrification, and that they planned to have Y percentage of their sales electric by date Z (or cease selling regular vehicles ICEs (Internal Combustion Engines) by a certain date. Given their inability to meet any of the previously announced EV sales deadlines, one has reason to be skeptical, but the fact that they feel compelled to (over?) promise may be better than inaction.

3) VW may be an exception, as they committed billions of their own money to ramping up charging infrastructure. Whereas VW was legally obligated to spend the fines leveled as a result of the diesel cheating scandal to construct the Electrify America EV charging network (by the end of 2021: 800 sites in the US, featuring 3500 chargers), VW recently committed to spending about $2B of their own unrestricted funds to more than double the size of the Electrify America charging network. To put their claims in context, the US presently has about 41K charging sites and 100K public chargers. By 2025 Electrify America intends to have 1700 sites and 9500 chargers. Electrify Canada will be similarly expanded, and VW expects to spend $86B by 2025 to pursue electrification. This one-upped GM, which had only promised $35B for the same time period. So there!

4) Tesla announced a vague plan to someday share its charging infrastructure with others, which will double the infrastructure for non-Tesla EV drivers. The financial details remain to be worked out. Presumably the fillup cost to non-Teslas will be higher than those to Tesla owners, though the costs might alternately be borne by the other car manufacturers (as being discussed in Europe). Regardless, when you find yourself somewhere with a nearly drained battery and a handy Tesla supercharger, the cost differential might be immaterial. How this would work physically (who needs to buy which conversion cables) remain to be determined. With the rapidly dwindling number of CHAdeMo connector users, this portends a glorious future in which the connectors become uniform and interchangeable. However, some car manufacturers (e.g., Porsche) are pushing for a doubling of the fast-charging voltage standard (from 480 VDC to 960 VDC), which might complicate things and raise the cost of building fast-chargers.

5) Biden targeted EV infrastructure for a massive buildup, but so far the Republicans have stymied it; the White House has plans for covering some of the blocked buildup using budget legislation. Political inertia is with the Democrats, but political power on the Hill is very close to gridlock. Stay tuned.

6) EV sales have spread out from sedans to SUVs and crossovers. There are now many all-wheel drive vehicles (AWDs) at mid- or higher price points, though availability is somewhat limited in some places. Among the car models with at least an AWD option are (ordered by base MSRP from low to high) (see link for pickup trucks):

Tesla Model 3

Ford Mach-E

Tesla Model Y

Polestar (Volvo) 2

Mercedes EQC-400

Jaguar i-Pace

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model X

Porsche Taycan

7) EV pickup trucks were supposed to emerge in 2020, but did not. First at bat is Rivian, but for the last year this new manufacturer has been promising deliveries in about “a month or so.” Ford and Tesla are teasing mass-market EV pickups, but no firm sale dates have been announced; Ford will sell them to electric power company fleets in 2022. GM is teasing a $117K Hummer EV: that’s a little rich for me, but the day of capable AWD electric pickups is nigh. I expect to see one locally in September.

8) Policy makers have woken up to the cost and complexity of rapidly expanding clean power generation and delivery of electrons for EVs, but no coordinated response is evident. For most, the major expenses have been penciled in for “later”. Texas ran into catastrophic grid failures during a winter cold snap, in part due to their inability to obtain power from neighboring states, which had power (Texas is the only continental state with a stand-alone grid). Texas legislators are now patting themselves on the back for bold new initiatives long adopted by other states (e.g., requiring the utilities to cold-harden their generators), but connecting the Texas grid to the rest of the nation is not on the table.

9) Climate-related natural disasters make the front page almost daily, but most media outlets cry for money to build structural defenses, not prevent climate change. Record-breaking temperatures, unprecedented wildfires, smoke plumes reaching almost all of North America, chronic coastal floods, record-setting deluges around the world, and agriculturally debilitating droughts would seem to be enough to get the worlds’ attention, but media coverage has focused only on mopping up the mess.

And locally:  
10) The city of Durango and La Plata Electric Association (LPEA) wrote a seminal EV readiness plan, but near-term changes are underwhelming. For example, in the “lead by example” element, LPEA committed to buying two Ford EV pickups when they become available sometime in 2022 (or 2023). Meanwhile, fast charging (DC) has finally reached the local area, with Pagosa (2020), Durango (July 2021), and Purgatory ski area (late 2021) acquiring moderately fast-charging capability. Those chargers should boost visitation by tourists and provide solace to local EV owners who might suddenly need to go a long distance. The EV readiness plan has put all the right processes in place; the heavy lifting – you guessed it – comes later. Stay tuned.

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Established car manufacturer Volvo to join the upstart EV producers in selling EVs online only

Established car manufacturer Volvo to join the upstart EV producers in selling EVs online only
A serious entry into the mid-range SUV market

In a surprising move, Volvo announced that it will transition its sales offerings entirely to electrics by 2030 (no ICEs or hybrids after that date), and that it will sell the electrics online only. This online-sales only announcement is a surprise because Volvo has an established car dealer network (though the nearest to the Four Corners is Corley’s Volvo Cars in Albuquerque) and a majority of states prohibit non-dealership sales of new cars. My source is an AP wire report Mar 2, 2021 by Matt Ott (accessed from Greenwire – eenews.com – which is unfortunately behind a paywall).

Volvo did promise that dealerships “…will remain a crucial part of the customer experience and will continue to be responsible for a variety of important services such as selling, preparing, delivering, and servicing cars. However, a Four Corner’s buyer would be inclined to take purchase locally, and seek service locally, rather than have to return a potentially disabled car to Albuquerque for routine service.

The prevailing business model for car sales is that new cars are sold with minimal profit in exchange for creating a captive audience of owners beholden, or at least greatly encouraged, to use the dealership for highly lucrative service. This business model is under threat from EVs, both because so many upstarts (Tesla, Rivian, etc.) are not following the plan, and EVs themselves need very little servicing.

In response to previous economic threats to dealerships, several states, including Colorado and New Mexico, have restrictions or total bans on the non-dealer sales of new cars. Colorado recently amended its laws to allow several additional manufacturers to permit in-state sales of cars without dealers (Tesla has a dealership in Denver and is therefore exempt). Volvo’s plan may run afoul of the dealership-protection laws in some states.

In addition to shaking up the business relationship between manufacturers and dealerships, Volvo’s push into EVs is startling in its ambition. Volvo has stated that it expects 50% of global sales to be fully electric by 2025 (US sales of pure electrics are about 2% now; about 100,000 of Volvo’s global sales of about 600,000 vehicles per year are in the US). Volvo’s first entry into the all-electric field, the XC-40 Recharge (crossover SUV) is currently held up in ports of entry, as an essential software update is needed before they can be sold to the public. That hiccup aside, Volvo is getting good technical reviews for their EVs.

Although Volvo’s timeline for the phase-out of ICE (internal combustion engine) cars is among the most aggressive of the major manufacturers, others are not far behind. BMW expects 50% of its global sales to be all-electric vehicles by 2030 (versus 2025 for Volvo). BMW has not announced a date for completing the phase-out of ICEs; they expect to sell hybrids for some time. GM is more aggressive for the end of the phase-out of ICEs (2035), but GM expresses it more as an aspiration than a commitment. Jaguar, on the other hand, has promised the earliest phase-out (2025), but of course, if you could afford a Jaguar, why would you settle for anything less than an electric.

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But I’ve heard that EVs don’t do as well in cold weather…

But I’ve heard that EVs don’t do as well in cold weather…
Chevy Bolt on a cold Canadian ski trip

They don’t, but neither does your internal combustion engine (ICE) car, and no one whines about their ICE car in the winter (if it starts). All vehicles lose some efficiency when they are cold, but alert reader Richard Grossman pointed out a recent article (link: https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11022021/inside-clean-energy-norway-electric-vehicles/) on Norway’s adoption of EVs: 56% of new car sales, compared to 2% in the United States. This fact was highlighted in a recent Superbowl ad for Chevrolet, but remember this: the top FIVE countries for EVs sales are all near the Arctic Circle:

  1. Norway 56%
  2. Iceland 23%
  3. Netherlands 15%
  4. Sweden 11%
  5. Finland 7%

The linked article explores the reasons for Norway’s rapid adoption of EVs, which include celebrity endorsements, an early and rapid government-funded build-out of charging stations, and tax breaks that provide purchase price parity between regular cars and EVs. If you are interested in EV policy incentives, be sure to check out the lively article by Dan Gearino in the link above.

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