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Here's why the auto industry got the EV adoption timeline wrong

Breana Noble and Kalea Hall, The Detroit News on

Published in Automotive News

Pandemic-affected inventories, overzealous emissions goals and high Wall Street valuations for electric vehicle maker Tesla Inc. generated a drive for legacy automakers to push a whole lot more EVs in the coming years — a strategy the industry now recognizes was a bit misguided.

Automakers like General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co. have cut billions of dollars in EV investments and recommitted to producing hybrids, acknowledging that demand for the zero-tailpipe emissions technology hasn't met their expectations.

"I don't have a lot of patience for us getting the forecast wrong," Marin Gjaja, chief operating officer of Ford's Model e EV division, recently told The Detroit News, "but the reality is we all sort of got it wrong."

This doesn't mean EV sales have stopped growing. In fact, last year, EV sales grew by 50%, but that still is below the 70% the industry forecasted, according to a recent Boston Consulting Group report. EV market share was at 6.5% in February, down from 7.3% in January and 6.9% in December, according to data from Inc., an automotive data tracking website.

It's no secret why. Impassioned EV buyers by now have one. Convincing the early majority is a harder sell. High costs, access to charging infrastructure, charging speeds slower than filling a tank of gas and concerns over grid reliability remain obstacles to consumer acceptance.

"It’s been a black eye for the industry," said Daniel Ives, analyst at investment firm Wedbush Securities Inc. "It’s almost like everyone jumped into the water thinking it was an ocean of opportunity, but at least so far, it’s been a big lake."


Customers like A.J. Petix, 32, of Mount Clemens say they'd love to get an EV, but their high cost and driving range remain concerns. Instead, Petix replaced his 2011 Ford Escape with a Ford Maverick Hybrid. The small pickup's 44 miles per gallon in city driving and its price below $30,000 appealed to him.

"The challenge for me is definitely mostly the additional investment of how do I take this on road trips," said Petix, "because the hybrid enables that simply by having a longer range and not needing to fill up as often. But when I do fill up, it only takes five minutes."

As a result, dealers like Rhett Ricart, owner of Ricart Automotive Group in Columbus, Ohio, say they haven't seen the expected volume in EVs at this point: "It's closer to Armageddon than a big party."

To convert the next wave of EV adopters, Boston Consulting Group analysts say automakers will have to address key customer requirements: 20-minute charging times, a 30-minute detour and wait time for fast-charging, a 350-mile driving range and a price of $50,000. Doing this could lead EVs to account for up to 30% of U.S. sales in the next few years when next-generation EVs are in full production, according to the group.


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