Interesting times in the electric vehicle market, as more and more carmakers try to position themselves in what looks like a second phase of growth.
In the luxury market segment, the announced launch of Tesla’s Cybertruck has galvanized a market that, in the United States, buys two million vehicles each year. What at first looked like a prototype of a prototype, has turned out to be a completely revolutionary design that combines a unique-looking vehicle with much lower manufacturing costs than expected. With more than half-a-million orders on its books, the company is now prioritizing its production over the Roadster.
The reason is simple: the Roadster appeals to a relatively marginal market and, from a target audience point of view, does not contribute much to the segments in which the brand already had significant appeal, whereas the Cybertruck, if successful, could allow it to dominate a very important and iconic part of the market that is fundamental to achieving mass popularity in a country like the United States.
In the economy segment, Volkswagen has announced plans to launch a family of electric vehicles priced at below $22,000, targeting city dwellers and not originally designed for the US, which was originally going to be launched under the Seat brand. Affordable mobility is an important segment that could shift a lot of units
Electric mobility gives car designers much more creative freedom with fewer constraints than traditional vehicles, where pretty much everything has already been invented, and could lead to revolutionary vehicles that look very different to anything we’ve seen so far.
Most analysts seem to be saying that this progressive shift to electricity is an intermediate stage in the transition to a model of mobility as a service based on self-driving vehicles and robotaxis — pointing to Intel’s recent acquisition of Moovit on top of the 2017 acquisition of Mobileye and Volvo’s announcement that it will start selling Lidar-equipped autonomous vehicles from 2022. The idea is that more and more of us will prefer to use such services rather than own an underused asset. If the recent pandemic has made one thing clear, it is the potential of the autonomous vehicle
While replacing one urban gridlock with another, made up of electric vehicles, is not the best solution, the pandemic and its restrictions on mobility have opened our eyes to the evils of the internal combustion engine and how air pollution makes us more vulnerable to disease. Even in an anarchic market like India, where many e-rickshaws are unregulated, their use contributes significantly to reducing pollution in cities, and they are gradually becoming more popular.
But unless you have a garage where you can recharge it, an electric vehicle is not an attractive proposition, which fits in with the plans of a growing number of cities, which are saying they want to free up space on their post-pandemic streets, questioning the appropriation of public space by private vehicles for parking. Just think how much better life would be if, instead of our streets being lined with unsightly rows of cars, we had room for wider sidewalks, bicycle lanes, public transport or loading and unloading areas.
The transition to electric mobility will hit car dealers and their maintenance networks hard, which easily explains why they don’t want to sell them. With growing interest from more market segments and more brands pivoting to direct sales or managing their own fleets, the transition to electric vehicles is speeding up, making them an increasingly reasonable alternative, which is a better outcome for everyone.