Mark Reuss is a dyed-in-the-wool car guy. He lives, eats, and breathes horsepower, torque, and cubic inches. That’s how he rose to be president of General Motors. Those of us ensconced in the gleaming 47-story tower made of iridium infused nanotubes that serves as world headquarters for the far flung CleanTechnica empire see the world as a place where electric vehicles will soon dominate the new car market.
Reuss sees things differently, as one might expect. In an opinion piece for CNN Business, he is candid about the three factors he believes are keeping electric cars from going mainstream — range, charging infrastructure, and cost.
Electric Vehicle Range
Reuss writes, “Range is the single biggest barrier to EV acceptance. Just as demand for gas mileage doesn’t go down when there are more gas stations, demand for better range won’t ease even as charging infrastructure improves. People will still want to drive as long as possible between charges.”
I have never heard that argument before and it got me thinking. Why do we want to drive as long as possible between charges? I understand that people on long trips may want to be able to go hundreds of miles between stops but what about during routine daily usage? During the other 50 weeks of the year, we drive 30 miles a day or less. The point Reuss fails to understand is that we charge our EVs overnight at home or during the day at work. We EV-ers never visit a gas station and start almost every day with at least an 80% battery charge.
As humans we seem to have an urge to drive as long as possible on the highway between stops. The people at Volkswagen picked up on that trait and used it in this hilarious commercial that came out a few years before Dieselgate broke.
It’s clear that Reuss doesn’t drive electric cars on a regular basis, so he doesn’t understand how they are different from conventional cars. All he knows is what his people tell him and what they are saying is that in clinics, most people say they want 300 miles of range before giving an electric car serious consideration. “The vast majority of electric vehicles sold — almost 90% — are six models with the highest range of 238 miles or more — three Tesla models, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Hyundai Kona and the Kia Niro, according to IHS Markit data,” he says.
He counsels us to be patient. “Lithium-ion batteries, which power virtually all electric cars on the road today, are rapidly improving, increasing range with each generation. At GM, we recently announced that our 2020 Chevrolet Bolt EV will have a range of 259 miles, a 21-mile improvement over the previous model. Range will continue to improve across the industry, and range anxiety will dissipate.”
If we just wait long enough, range will cease to be a factor according to Reuss. Of course by that time, New York City could be underwater, which could render the whole range issue moot.
EV Charging Infrastructure
“Our research also shows that, among those who have considered buying an electric vehicle, but haven’t, the lack of charging stations is the number one reason why, Reuss writes.
“For EVs to gain widespread acceptance, manufacturers, charging companies, industry groups and governments at all levels must work together to make public charging available in as many locations as possible.
“For example, we are seeing increased partnership activity between manufacturers and charging station companies, as well as construction companies that build large infrastructure projects, with the goal of adding thousands of additional public charging stations in the United States.
“Private charging stations are just as important. Nearly 80% of electric vehicle owners charge their vehicles at home, and almost 15% at work, with the rest at public stations, our research shows. Therefore, continuing to make charging easy and seamless is vital. To that end, more partnerships with companies that will install the chargers in consumers’ homes conveniently and affordably will be a boon for both buyers and sellers.”
Quick, can you spot what is missing from those words? Here’s a hint. Nowhere in those three paragraphs does Reuss suggest his company is doing any of those things. Let someone else do it. Call us when you have the infrastructure piece figured out and we will start rolling out the electric cars we are working on feverishly in the background. How is that not greenwashing?
Reuss acknowledges that electric cars cost less to operate than conventional cars, typically about a two-thirds less. But sticker prices are higher, and that’s an issue for customers. Not to worry, he says. Things are going to improve soon.
“Looking forward, we think electric vehicle propulsion systems will achieve cost parity with internal combustion engines within a decade, probably sooner, and will only get better after that, driving sticker prices down and widening the appeal to the average consumer. That will be driven by a number of factors, including improvements with each generation of batteries and vehicles, as well as expected increased regulatory costs on gasoline and diesel engines.”
That last part is interesting. General Motors is first in line to kiss up to the alleged president and support his move to roll back fuel economy standards. So the president of GM is expecting higher emissions and fuel economy regulations but doing everything humanly possible to delay them as long as possible. That sort of two-faced approach should tell you all you need to know about the mindset of a typical auto executive.
Reuss wraps up his opinion piece this way.
“Removing these barriers will lead to what I consider the ultimate key to widespread EV adoption — the emergence of the EV as a consumer’s primary vehicle — not a single-purpose or secondary vehicle. That will happen when we as an industry are able to offer the utility, cost parity and convenience of today’s internal combustion-based cars and trucks.
“To get the electric vehicle to first-string status, manufacturers simply must make it as good or better than the cars, trucks and crossovers most people are used to driving today. And we must deliver on our promise of making affordable, appealing EVs in the widest range of sizes and body styles possible. When we do that, electric vehicle adoption and acceptance will be widespread, and it can happen sooner than most people think.”
Flowery words. And where is General Motors when it comes to offering the widest range of sizes and body styles possible? If you answered “Nowhere,” go to the head of the class. Volkswagen is doing it as part of its $50 billion investment in electric vehicles. Tesla is doing it as it adds an SUV, a tractor, and a pickup truck to its lineup. Meanwhile, GM is standing on the sidelines with its hands in its pockets waiting for others to do the heavy lifting.
It is not too early to start speculating about which legacy car companies will disappear over the next ten years. When that discussion takes place, General Motors, Chrysler, and Toyota usually head the list. Can’t you just hear the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth that will happen when these companies come sucking up to Uncle Sugar looking for taxpayer money to save them from their poor management decisions?
Mark Reuss is a smart man with a lifetime of experience in the car business. But when it comes to electric cars and the future of the industry, he hasn’t got a clue. Things are not likely to end well for General Motors as the EV revolution moves forward with this kind of thinking taking place in the boardroom.
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