For the past 5 years, people who wanted to drive a low or zero emissions vehicle had a choice — a hybrid like the Toyota Prius with a smallish battery and gasoline engine, a plug-in hybrid with a moderate size battery and a gasoline powered range extender engine like the Chevy Volt, or a battery electric vehicle like a Tesla.
While hybrids were all the rage in the early part of this century, they have lost much of their allure over the last few years. Plug-in hybrids looked like the new stars in the constellation of EV models, with GM, Ford, and Hyundai/KIA offering them. It appeared they would be the middle course in the EV revolution.
Hyundai/KIA are bringing plug-in hybrid models of the Soul, Kona, Niro, and Ioniq to market while Ford is still working to improve its PHEV offerings. But General Motors and Volkswagen now say they are going to leap frog over the whole PHEV/BEV discussion. Both companies will offer only full battery electric models in the future.
Inside EVs reports that GM president Mark Ruess told investors recently, “Hybrids are just countermeasures to an ICE. You can’t spend money to force the customer to carry around extra stuff they may not need. Or, you can spend your money on getting the real answer, which is providing the customer a zero emissions, sustainable, affordable solution.”
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Reuss amplified on his remarks. “If I had a dollar more to invest, would I spend it on a hybrid? Or would I spend it on the answer that we all know is going to happen, and get there faster and better than anybody else?”
Many observers assumed General Motors would leverage all the research and development that went into creating the Voltec powertrain for the Chevy Volt. A version of it went into a hybrid Chevy Malibu and the Cadillac CT 6 PHEV, but now that Volt production has been halted, it appears no more Voltec powered cars are on the horizon, at least not in the United States. GM abandoned the European market when it sold its Opel division to PSA.
Oddly enough, the Velite 6, a Buick-badged version of the Volt, will be offered for sale in China, where the government would prefer manufacturers offer nothing but battery electric cars. Go figure!
GM brought an all new battery electric Cadillac SUV to the Detroit auto show earlier this year, but little has been heard about that car since then. The chassis for that car is supposed to serve as the basis for up to 20 new battery electric models from Cadillac and Chevrolet in coming years.
There were rumors previously that the chassis for the Chevy Bolt would also serve as the basis for more models but none have materialized. GM seems to have burned through a lot of R&D cash but not leveraging those efforts to make new products. In theory, doing so would lower the unit costs associated with all that investment but GM seems to adhere to an unorthodox view of economics.
Jalopnik points out that Volkswagen, with its commitment to its new MEB chassis for battery electric cars, is also not interested in making plug-in hybrid cars. Its ID 3 5-door sedan should debut later this year in Europe, while the ID Crozz will appear in the US in 2021 followed by the ID Buzz in 2022.
It also notes that Ford and Toyota are both committed to plug-in hybrid technology, setting up a clash of technologies that will play out in coming years. Has the time for plug-in hybrids already come and gone, or do they still have a role to play in the EV revolution? “We’ll see,” said the Zen Master.