The 2023 NACTOY Finalists

By Gary S. Vasilash*

The finalists for the 2023 North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year awards were announced today in Los Angeles at the LA Auto Show.

A full third of the finalists are no surprise:

  • Chevrolet Silverado ZR2
  • Ford F-150 Lightning
  • Lordstown Endurance

That’s because those trucks were in the semifinalist category, too, and as there are groups of three. . .

As for the cars, there is something of an interesting divergence.

There are the Acura Integra, the Genesis G80 EV and the Nissan Z.

The Integra and the Z are both sporty cars from brands that are, comparatively speaking, well established.

Genesis is a comparatively new marque. And not only is the G80 EV an (obviously) electric vehicle while both the others have internal combustion under their hoods, it is more of a stately, stylish sedan, not something that would likely end up as a screensaver on the gear of pre-licensed teens.

And then there are the utilities.

All electric vehicles:

  • Cadillac LYRIQ
  • Genesis GV60
  • Kia EV6

The Cadillac and the Genesis are both in the luxury category, while the Kia is a mass-market vehicle.

The LYRIQ is Cadillac’s first major step toward becoming an all-electric company. The GV60 is the first purpose-built EV for the Genesis brand (e.g., there is a non-EV G80). And in the case of Kia, it is no stranger to EVs, as it has had both the Niro and Soul with that powertrain option for a few years.

Every year the NACTOY judges have some challenging choices. This year I’d say they are particularly demanding.

One thing is certain, however: an electric powertrain will certainly be under the hood of one of the winners, and it is completely possible it could run the table.

*I am a NACTOY juror, so I don’t want to make any specific predictions beyond that EV one.

Audi’s Identity Issue

By Gary S. Vasilash

2018 saw the launch of the Audi e-tron, the German’s first production EV. Even then knowing where the interest was developing (things like the Tesla Model S notwithstanding), the folks in Ingolstadt determined that an SUV was the body style to launch.

Since then, Audi has sold about 150,000 of the vehicles.

Audi Q8 e-tron. (Image: Audi)

Maybe they figured that what the heck an “e-tron” was was something that kept it from gaining significantly more traction in the market.

So for the new model the name has been changed to “Q8 e-tron.”

The company had some equity in the Q8 name for its SUV. So it has appended it to the electric variants (there is also the Q8 Sportback e-tron).

Audi puts it: “By renaming this model the Q8, Audi is making a clear statement that the Audi Q8 e-tron is the flagship model among its electric SUVs and Coupe SUVs.”

Perhaps that will resolve what is arguably an identity crisis in the market.

However, the company goes on to maintain, “The Audi Q8 e-tron and Q8 Sportback e-tron are immediately identifiable as fully electric models, marked out by the new front and rear designs that carry Audi’s electric design language forward.”

There it may be a bit misled. The whole “immediately identifiable as fully electric models” is more than a slight exaggeration.

It was probably that sort of thinking that led Audi marketers to think back in 2018 that prospective customers would immediately know that the e-tron was an electric Q8 by another name.

Seems that that didn’t work out particularly well sales-wise.

Bob Purcell: from the EV1 to the VIA Skateboard Chassis

By Gary S. Vasilash

Bob Purcell has been in the EV space for a number of years. In the early 1990s when General Motors was developing the EV1 Purcell was involved. He was to become the head of the then-newly formed Advanced Technology Vehicles Division at the company. After nearly 17 years at GM Purcell left the corporation and worked at companies involved in batteries and electric propulsion systems.

Purcell is now the CEO of VIA Motors, which is a producer of an electric skateboard chassis for application in Class 2 through Class 5 cargo vans, trucks and buses.

The skateboard chassis allows an array of upfitting opportunities. (Image: VIA Motors)

Although he had his start with a passenger car (the EV1), Purcell is convinced that commercial vehicles are the ideal place for electric propulsion.

As he explains on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” this is because the total cost of ownership of an electric truck is less than that of one with a thermal engine, thanks to things like reduced maintenance requirements. In addition to which, he says there is a 4:1 per mile cost benefit (electricity vs. liquid fuel). All things that add up to improvements to the bottom line of commercial carriers.

(While personal vehicle owners can also experience the same advantages, it isn’t often—if ever—that you hear the buyer of a new EV say, “I got this because the life-cycle costs are a distinct advantage.”)

Purcell talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights, and me on the show.

Beyond his discussion of what they’re doing at VIA, Purcell shares plenty of insights on both his career as well as the overall EV landscape. The man is clearly an EV proponent, but unlike many boosters of the tech, Purcell has a deep base of knowledge in the space, which makes him far more credible than the average EV enthusiast.

And you can see the show here.

What Is the Ram 1500 Revolution EV Concept?

By Gary S. Vasilash

The Ram Truck brand has announced it will unveil its Ram 1500 Revolution battery electric pickup concept at CES 2023 in Las Vegas on January 5.

“CES” used to stand for “Consumer Electronics Show.”

Now it is bigger than that.

One of the reasons it is expanded in scope in due to the auto industry which, for the past few years, has realized that attending an industry trade show full of people who are tech heat seekers is good for word of mouth, which is good for business.

Consider this: the Chevy Bolt EV was introduced on January 6, 2017 at CES. GM CEO Mary Barra made a keynote address at the event that day.

The following week in Detroit the North American International Auto Show, the venue where vehicles are ordinary unveiled, got to see the Bolt EV, too. Not a debut, of course.

What’s more, coincident with the unveiling of the Bolt EV Mary Barra and the car appeared on the cover of Wired magazine.

Vehicle OEM PR people know that writers for Car and Driver and MotorTrend have to cover vehicles like the Bolt and the Ram 1500 Revolution.

If they can get publications like Wired to cover them—that’s saying something.

A question about the Ram 1500 Revolution and CES:

Is Ram Truck positioning the vehicle as tech or a truck?

This is not to say that modern trucks don’t have a lot of tech. But it does seem that by launching it there the company is saying to the world that the truck is a marvel of advanced engineering more than this is something that someone is going to use to haul aggregate or boards or whatever.

It will most certainly have the capability to hauling that whatever and then some.

But if it can convince people who are never going to haul that this is a technically trick truck, then they may get even more market traction than they would if they introduced it at the Chicago Auto Show, an event in February where OEMs have tended to launch their trucks.

Toyota, GM, Ford; EVs, AVs and ADAS

By Gary S. Vasilash

Last week Norihiko Shirouzu of Reuters reported “Toyota is considering a reboot of its electric-car strategy to better compete in a booming market it has been slow to enter.”

Toyota’s Prius is synonymous with “hybrid.” The company has pretty much hybridized everything. It argues—or maybe that would be “argued”—that it is better to build a whole bunch of affordable hybrids than a comparatively few electric vehicles that are comparatively more expensive: according to Kelley Blue Book, the average price of an electric vehicle in the U.S. in September was $65,291. The average transaction price for vehicles overall, KBB calculated, was $48,094. Which is roughly a 27% delta, which is certainly non-trivial.

Yes, this is a Prius. (Image: Toyota)

Be that as it may, Shirouzu’s sources indicated that “Toyota’s planning had assumed demand for EVs would not take off for several decades.” Which is decidedly not the case.

So is Toyota making a pivot? That is one of the subjects discussed on this edition of “Autoline After Hours.” Joining “Autoline’s” John McElroy and me are automotive consultant/analyst Jack Keebler and long-time auto journalist, currently freelancing at Autoweek, Todd Lassa.

Other topics discussed are the Q3 earnings of both General Motors and Ford, as well as those companies positions on autonomous driving: GM continues to be bullish on the prospects for Cruise, still anticipating revenue of $1-billion from the operation by 2025; Ford is far more conservative, as it announced that Argo AI, the AV company that was owned primarily by it and Volkswagen (each had 39%), was closing. Ford going forward would focus more on Level 2+ and Level 3 ADAS. (Ford CEO Jim Farley: “It’s mission-critical for Ford to develop great and differentiated L2+ and L3 applications that at the same time make transportation even safer.”)

The conversation is wide ranging and lively. And you can see it here.

Interesting EV Numbers

The good news for EV enthusiasts (as in those who enthusiastically support the proliferation of EVs not necessarily because of any environmental considerations but simply because (a) they have one and figure that others should, too, or (b) they simply think it is cool tech, and while they can’t afford it—according to KBB.com, EVs had an average retail price of $65,291 in September—they still think it is cool for those who can):

According to Elizabeth Krear, vice president, electric vehicle practice, J.D. Power: “October breaks a three-consecutive month decline in EV consideration.” More people are thinking about getting an EV.

J.D. Power data have it that 27.4% of people who are going to be in the market for a new vehicle in the next 12 months are “very likely” to consider an EV.

While that is a move in the right direction for EV sales, Krear has some other figures that are less propitious:

“Adoption has been flat for the past six months with the retail monthly share for BEVs hovering at 5.6%. The top two reasons for EV rejection are lack of public charging and price.”

As for that all-important price component, she points out that affordability has decreased by 15 points during the past 12 months and the recent rise in interest rates is having an effect, as well.

But the federal EV support money for EV purchases as well as an increase in the number of models (J.D. Power has 51 in its data set; two years ago it contained 27) are at least helping people consider EVs, even though they still might opt for that ICE model.

Bob Boniface on Automotive Design

By Gary S. Vasilash

Here’s something that you probably don’t know about Bob Boniface, director of Global Buick Design, even if you know Bob Boniface.

He began his career. . .working at a mutual fund in Boston after receiving his undergraduate degree. . .in psychology and economics.

Boniface did go to the College of Creative Studies in Detroit and while there was hired as an intern to work at Chrysler which led to a job offer from then-head of Chrysler Design, Tom Gale.

Buick Wildcat EV concept. If Buicks look like this, then the brand has a bright, electric future. (Image: Buick)

Boniface was to work at Chrysler for 12 years, during which time he worked on a variety of projects including the second-generation Dodge Intrepid, the Dodge Intrepid ESX (a diesel hybrid with wheel motors), the Stow ‘n Go seating for the minivans, the 300C, and the Jeep Liberty.

In 2004 Boniface moved across town to General Motors. The first thing he worked on was the GM Sequel—a fuel cell-powered vehicle. Then the gen-five Camaro.

Boniface says, on this edition of “Autoline After Hours,” that he was, in effect, employee #1 on the Chevrolet Volt.

Then he moved to Cadillac for six years. He worked on XT4, XT5, CTS, CT6 and. . .he says the best part was working on the V-Series, the CTS-V and the ATS-V. (He says one of the engaging parts of the V programs was the level of commitment across all the functions involved: by having everyone working toward making something special, the results is–something special.)

Boniface moved to Buick in 2016 and has worked on vehicles including the Enclave and the Envision.

He points out that a lot of his work involves overseeing the studios in Korea and China. The China market is huge for Buick—roughly four times that of the U.S. market, so that part of the world is important. He notes that a lot of developments in the interior space are occurring in that part of the world, and interiors are part of his portfolio.

But then there’s the Wildcat EV Concept.

Realize that Buick arguably gave rise to the whole notion of the concept vehicle with the 1938 Buick Y-Job. The brand has had a number of vehicles with striking designs since then, such as the Wildcat I and II of the 1950s to the Velite in 2004 to the Avenir in 2016.

Back in 2018 Boniface says that they went to work on developing not so much a new vehicle as a new design language. But that exercise gave rise to the Wildcat EV Concept, a 2+2 coupe that is an expression of the electric future of Buick and that expression includes a new face—although being new, it also includes a nod to the brand’s design paste (e.g., high lamps, body-mounted badge).

Again: it is the language that they created and the vehicles to come will be spelled with those words.

If you have any interest in automotive design over the past 30 years, then this edition of “Autoline After Hours” is must viewing.

Joining the discussion are Greg Migliore of Autoblog and Joe DeMatio of Hagerty Media.

And you can see it here.

Lucid Through Q3

Back in May, Lucid Group, which produces the magnificent Lucid Air line of electric vehicles, thought that it would produce from 12,000 to 14,000 of those vehicles in 2022.

But, as they say, stuff happens.

After delivering 679 vehicles in Q2 it adjusted its guidance to be at 6,000 to 7,000 for the year.

Lucid Air Sapphire. Starts at $249,000. (Image: Lucid)

It just announced its Q3 production figures, which had 2,292 vehicles built at its plant in Casa Grande, Arizona.

So far this year it has built 3,697 vehicles.

To reach 6,000 units it would need 2,303 more.

That seems eminently do-able.

While the numbers are small, the Airs start at $87,400 and go north of $249,000.

Bigger numbers would be better. But in that context, small isn’t bad.

The Tricky Challenge of Meeting the EV Future in the (Mainly) ICE Present

By Gary S. Vasilash

One of the things that isn’t often considered when OEMs announce still another new electric vehicle is that just as is the case with their vehicles with internal combustion engines, suppliers make a considerable number of the parts and systems that go into those vehicles.

This puts suppliers in something of a tricky situation because chances are they have the capacity to produce parts for ICE vehicles and now, assuming that they want to continue to have business, they have to acquire or develop the wherewithal to make the EV componentry.

And let’s face it: this EV transition isn’t going to happen overnight, so there is still the need to supply the things for the ICE vehicles.

Consider the situation at GM, an example that is simply representative of the industry as a whole.

Buick has four vehicles in its lineup and zero EVs. Cadillac has seven and one EV. Chevy has 18 vehicles and one (or two if you could the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV as two, but they count it as one). And there is GMC with eight vehicles and one EV.

It should be noted that there were 22,830 EVs delivered in the U.S. by GM through Q3—out of a total 1,650,827 vehicles.

Still, suppliers see the proverbial writing on the wall and as such they are looking to what they can do to make the transition to electric.

One of the top global auto suppliers is Schaeffler. And on this edition of “Autoline After Hours” we talk to Jeff Hemphill, chief technology officer of Schaeffler Americas.

Hemphill explains how the company is making the transition to electrification, providing everything from motors that are used in hybrid systems to complete e-axles for battery electric vehicles. The company is both responding to what OEMs want and working to develop the tech that is expected to be needed.

(Remember: EVs are still pretty much a nascent technology for most OEMs–and suppliers–even though it seems fait accompli.)

Hemphill talks with “Autoline’s” John McElroy, Mike Austin of Guidehouse and me about how the company is working to provide OEMs with what they need now—and will need tomorrow.

And you can see it all here.

EV Is VE: Very Expensive

The average transaction price for an electric vehicle this past August—that is, the average price that a real person paid to get the vehicle off the lot—was $66,524, according to Kelley Blue Book. A full-size pickup truck (presumably powered by gasoline) was less costly: $63,456. (Here’s something random to consider: That is a $3,068 difference. If gasoline is $5 per gallon, then that would buy 613.6 gallons. If the vehicle gets 18 mpg, then one could drive said pickup 11,044 miles.)

Forthcoming (albeit pre-production) 2024 Chevrolet Blazer EV SS. (Image: Chevrolet)

Next fall Chevy is to bring out the Equinox EV with an announced, anticipated, starting price of $30,000. The company will also be bringing out the Blazer EV, that has an “estimated MSRP starting around $44,995.” The photo on the webpage has a photo of a preproduction version of the Blazer EV. The “as shown” price for that midsize SUV: $67,990.

Somehow that $30,000 is likely to be closer to $40,000 for someone going for an average transaction.

Or more.