The Emerging EV Challenge

Incumbents will gain some share. But it is going to take a lot of work to get it

By Gary S. Vasilash

When GM announced its sales for the first half of 2021, the Chevrolet Bolt EV and the new variant the Bolt EUV did quite well. Comparatively speaking.

That is, sales were up 142.4% compared with the first half of 2020.

Of course, 2020 was the COVID year, so the sales of pretty much every vehicle has shown robust signs of sales, but few with such a high percentage rise.

That said, the total number of sales for the two models in the first half of 2021 was 20,288. To put that number into context, realize that the company sold 31,886 Malibus during the same period—and that represented a decline of 33.5% for the stalwart sedan.

And to put the Bolt EV/EUV sales into context, know that in the second quarter alone of 2021 Tesla delivered 199,360 Model 3 and Model Y units—or looked at another way, Tesla sold in three months 179,072 more vehicles than Chevrolet did in six months.

“IONIQ 5 introduces the Hyundai brand to a while new set of buyers, Jose Munoz ,president and CEO, Hyundai Motor America, said of the forthcoming EV. Buyers matter. Especially new ones. (Image: Hyundai)

General Motors has a lot of commitment to EVs going forward, In November 2020 it announced that it would have 30 new EVs on the global market by 2025, of which two-thirds would be available in North America. Then in June 2021 it announced it was adding commercial trucks to the North American mix, as well as additional EV production capacity.

In the GM boilerplate it describes itself as “a global company focused on advancing an all-electric future that is inclusive and accessible to all.”

Last week Mercedes announced its all-EV approach by 2030.

But presumably this is not a plan that is “inclusive and accessible to all.”

Also last week GM announced a recall of 2017-2019 Bolt EVs. A problem with the vehicles potentially bursting into flames.

This is the second time these models have been subject to a recall, with the first being in November 2020.

The new GM EVs that are on the way will not have the same battery system used by the Bolt EV and Bolt EUV. It is an all-new design.

However, GM is not exactly in a position to make that as a benefit of the new vehicles because it would throw some serious shade on the Bolts.

Perhaps the limited sales of the Bolts works in GM’s favor because if the number of recalled vehicles was larger, if there were more people aware of the problem, then it would have even more work ahead of it trying to convince people that it, too, can make EVs with the best of them.

It is widely known that Tesla owners give Tesla a pass in a way that traditional OEMs have never gotten, nor will they. If there are manufacturing defects, shrug. If there are performance problems, shrug. If owners learn of those who are using the so-called “Autopilot” system and run into the side of a semi, a moment of silence followed by a shrug.

If any of these things are related to a traditional OEM: Wailing and gnashing of teeth by the customer base—and that’s just the start.

To be sure there will be more people buying EVs from the traditional brands. While in some cases it may be because the vehicles look damn good—Audi is certainly staking a claim in the design space—in more cases it will probably be predicated on the availability that can come from volume: not only availability in terms of the vehicles being on lots, but availability in terms of economies of scale helping reduce prices.

But given the delta between Model 3/Y sales and Chevy Bolt EV/EUV sales, I can’t help but think that the traditional OEMs may have a bigger problem on their hands than they might expect.

Although Hyundai has certainly been in the U.S. market since 1986, arguably it is still a challenger brand in the market compared to those that have been around for 100 years or more.

While its sales numbers are still modest in the U.S. vis-à-vis the established players, in the first half it sold 407,135 vehicles, or 49% more than it did in the first half of 2020.

Hyundai has been offering hybrids, EVs and even fuel cell vehicles in a way that many traditional OEMs don’t match.

So let’s say for the sake of argument that the same people who buy Samsung phones rather than iPhones would be more likely to go with a Hyundai than a Chevy. (If we go back to the aforementioned design advantage, Hyundai is certainly proved that point.)

So a chunk of the traditional goes there.

Then there are the new entrants. Lucid. Fisker. Lucid is staring at a high price point (think of it as a Cadillac competitor) and Fisker is more in the middle. Both of those companies have announced that they are working on what could be described as vehicles that are more inclusive and accessible.

While it might seem that the incumbents have the advantage simply because of their name recognition and availability, IBM doesn’t make PCs; when’s the last time you bought an image-related product from Kodak; and although a Pan Am shuttle took people to a space station in 2001: A Space Odyssey, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.

Fisker: Passionate About Clean Transportation

It is about engagement at Fisker. . .

By Gary S. Vasilash

“Our corporate vision is ‘A cleaner future for all,’ and one of our brand pillars is ‘Designed by people, for people.’ So this is not about just making a toaster on wheels by a computer, but we really have people here which are engaged and excited. I’m personally involved in every single design that we make, and I think that’s going to be one of the main differentiators of Fisker.”—Henrik Fisker, co-founder, president, chairman & CEO, Fisker Inc., June 8, 2021

Fisker, as in the man, is the designer of vehicles ranging from the Aston Martin DB9 to the Karma. Clearly the man knows how to pen a vehicle.

So the company apparently has a mission to make vehicles that are affordable across the board, whether this is for someone who wants something in the lux space or something that is achievable by someone who might otherwise buy something that resembles, well, a toaster.

Sometimes people talk about the importance of having a “car guy” in charge of a car company.

This is one better.

Maybe more than one better.