The Geneva International Motor Show may have lost some of its former glamor – several major brands are not attending this year – but it remains a good place to get a feel for the state of the European auto industry. And the Europeans are talking electrification – the New York Times caught the electric vibe, reporting that “range is the new horsepower [and] sustainability is the new status symbol.”
There were dozens of new electric cars on display at the recent show, and not all were whimsical concept cars – many of these vehicles are actually slated to go on sale in the next couple of years.
Polestar, Volvo’s electric performance sub-brand, displayed the Polestar 2, an “avant-garde 5-door fastback” with all-wheel drive, 300 kW of power, 660 Nm of torque, an estimated range of 275 miles, and a 0-100 km/h time of less than five seconds. A US version of the Polestar 2 is to go on sale early next year in California and Washington State.
Porsche showed off its Taycan EV, which will have “up to 600 hp” of power and 310 miles of range. This “lively young horse” is expected to be available in the US by the end of 2019, and the company claims to have already sold out the first year’s production.
Audi, whose new e-tron crossover is supposed to go on sale in Europe any day now, showed only EVs and hybrids at the show.
Volkswagen, which is converting several European plants to EV production, also had some upcoming plug-in models on display. “2019 will be a decisive year for electromobility,” said CEO Herbert Diess.
Renault has been running loads of ads for its Zoe EV, pushing a lease arrangement that includes a “battery rental” fee. “Even if the price of the cars is higher, the amount to finance from a customer’s perspective is not that much more,” Renault Senior VP Gilles Normand said. (However, Renault is also pushing its new gas-powered Clio, which is similar to the Zoe and sells for much less.)
Suppliers are also feeling the electric buzz. “The whole business case is changing for all of us,” said Chris Delaney, Goodyear’s European chief, sitting in a self-driving electric shuttle van equipped with specialized Goodyear tires. EVs account for only 5 percent of Goodyear’s current sales, Delaney said, but 40 percent of new business from manufacturers. Electric cars pose a design challenge for tire makers, he told the Times, as their high weight and fast acceleration require a more robust tire.
The big elephant that wasn’t in the room was Tesla, which dominates the EV market, but skipped this year’s show. As the Times’ Jack Ewing writes, “it remains to be seen whether the entrenched carmakers can generate the same energized fan base…Despite all of Tesla’s problems, Mr. Musk commands widespread respect in the industry for transforming the image of electric cars from nerdy science projects to desirable performance vehicles.”
Porsche’s Detlev von Platen concurred, saying, “Tesla did a lot to build up the market for electric cars. We have a lot of respect for what they accomplished. They’re a reference for us.”
America’s Big Three were nowhere to be seen in Geneva – GM has pulled out of Europe altogether, and currently offers only one electrified vehicle, the Chevy Bolt, which seems to be marked for extinction in Europe. Ford has been talking about electrifying its blockbuster F-150 pickup truck, but will soon be offering no electrified vehicles in the US.
While the Times and others celebrated the number of EVs on view in Geneva, a healthy dose of skepticism is in order. Sales of gas-guzzling SUVs are on the rise in Europe, and the Geneva show is an island of future EVs in a sea of existing vehicles that are burning more oil every year. In Switzerland, the market share of 4x4s has grown from 25% in 2008 to over 48% in 2018. Consumers’ love affair with SUVs has derailed the country’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions, which have actually increased over the past two years.
Although Switzerland has no domestic automakers, the auto importers are powerful defenders of the ICE, both in politics and in the press. A magazine-length promo piece for the Geneva show mentioned only one EV (the Audi e-tron) and featured a list of “myths about the auto industry.” Myth #1 is that diesel is dead. Irony department: Geneva is one of many European cities considering a plan to ban diesels from the city center. Myth #2 is that “EVs are the savior.” While conceding that “EVs are the future,” the auto show’s spokesman writes that “ICE engines will dominate for many years.”
Source: New York Times