The growing hype this year around electric cars is about to be met with a daunting reality: despite the fact that dozens of new electrified models are set to roll out in the coming years, few have interest in buying them right now.
That’s the upshot of a super-detailed story in Bloomberg today. Though they’re brief, some quotes within the piece read like a damning indictment that really has no idea what to expect in the coming years.
“When you hear people talk about the tipping point, it’s really that they’re counting the number of product offerings,” Hau Thai-Tang, Ford Motor Co.’s global head of product development and purchasing, said of electric cars. “Nobody can cite what the actual demand will be.”
By Thai-Tan’s estimate, Bloomberg reports, 127 battery-electric models will be introduced across the globe within the next five years. Which, with the proper context, seems kind of crazy. One researcher cited by Bloomberg expects that, by the time those models are out, electric cars will still only account for 2.4 person of U.S. demand.
Suppliers, too, seemingly have no idea what to expect.
Magna International Inc., for example, the largest auto supplier in North America, is having vigorous debates over whether to add capacity to tool up for electric cars when its executives don’t see much demand for them over the next eight years. The company predicts EVs will only grow to between 3 percent and 6 percent of global auto sales by 2025, said Jim Tobin, chief marketing officer at the Canadian company.
With gas prices remaining as low as they’ve been, demand for SUVs and crossovers continues to be sky-high. That’s unlikely to change, even with an onslaught of electrification. It’s as if the auto industry’s making a giant gamble that hinges on something like gas prices skyrocketing. That’ll happen again—eventually, but no one can say with certainty when that day’s going to come.
Bloomberg drops in a reference by Rick Haas, who runs Mahindra & Mahindra’s North American operations, and feels optimistic about the forthcoming electric transition.
“As soon as the ball crests the hill and everyone thinks, ‘I’m comfortable with this,’ then the whole industry will flip,” he told Bloomberg, which goes on to suggest that “no automaker wants to be left behind to sell the 21st Century version of the buggy whip: a car that runs on fossil fuel.”
I’m not sure that’s true. There’s no mandate in the U.S. to ban the sale of gas guzzling cars by a certain date, like there is in Europe and elsewhere. If that doesn’t change, gas prices stay where they are, and demand remains low, it seems almost a given that automakers are going to continue churning out ICEs for the foreseeable future.
Of course, that could change when more electric cars take to the road, and the public becomes more familiarized with them. But it seems less like a buggy whip transition and more of an outright gamble.