Time flies when you’re having fun. Now that we’re almost halfway through 2023, a year that began with an extreme amount of electric vehicle hype, I think it’s worth looking at how the Great Gas-Less Revolution, as it’s called by absolutely no one, is actually doing—both in the U.S. and abroad. Let’s kick off this midweek morning news roundup by doing exactly that.
Also on tap today: Tesla’s charging format takeover continues, exactly why pedestrian deaths are such an issue and some not-so-stellar news about the safety of smaller pickup trucks.
The EV Market Is Growing, But Slowly And Also Weirdly
I’ve said this on The Autopian’s pages before, but after months of writing about the future of the auto industry I’ve come to the conclusion that all signs do point to a “transition” to battery EVs, but it’s going to be weirder, rockier and slower than a lot of governments and automakers will admit.
Public and private investments into battery factories (and public charging) are huge. The car companies, even those previously skeptical, have big electric plans now. Many of them also aren’t really going to give up making profitable ICE vehicles anytime soon, if ever. And cost remains a high barrier to ownership basically everywhere.
I’m starting to wonder if the revised EV tax credit scheme is backfiring a bit, too. You know how you get the maximum tax credit only if the car and its batteries are made in North America? On a long enough timeline, that spurs battery development here instead of just China, but in the interim, very few cars qualify. That Hyundai and Polestar buying spree everyone went on in early 2023—when lots of vehicles still qualified before the rules were finalized—seems to have faded a bit. (And I still think writing off hybrids and PHEVs, which save you gas money and cut down on emissions right now, is a mistake the world will collectively regret someday.)
In the U.S., EV demand is still rising each quarter. But more of them are on dealer lots now, reports Automotive News:
Dealers’ average EV supply climbed to 92 days in the second quarter, up from 36 days a year earlier. EV inventory soared to more than 92,000 industrywide, compared with less than 21,000 in the second quarter of 2022. New-vehicle supply industrywide was 51 days. Days’ supply — or the average number of days a vehicle will stay in dealers’ inventory before selling — can include vehicles in progress, in transit and on dealers’ lots, Cox said.
But Americans are still lagging behind other developed countries in EV demand, again for cost reasons:
More than 20 percent of Americans surveyed by EY in March and April said they would consider a battery-electric vehicle for their next car purchase, up 15 percent from a year earlier, the most significant leap in the study. Nearly half said they’d consider an electrified vehicle — which includes plug-ins and hybrids — up 19 percent from a year earlier, also the biggest increase in the category of the 2023 EY Mobility Consumer Index. The index included responses from 15,000 consumers globally. About 1,500 respondents were U.S. consumers.
EV-friendly policies in the U.S., such as the Inflation Reduction Act, have accelerated interest, EY said, but the U.S. still trails much of the world in EV consideration. Car buyers in Norway, China, Singapore, India, Sweden, South Korea and Austria were more likely to consider a BEV than U.S. consumers.
And now even Volkswagen, the original author of the EV transition plan to atone for its diesel-cheating sins, says it’s scaling back production for now. From the UK’s Autocar:
According to the German car maker’s work council, a shift at Volkswagen’s Emden plant in Lower Saxony has been cancelled for the next two weeks in a lead-up to an extended four-week summer holiday period for workers on electric vehicle lines in July and August.
[Manfred Wulff, head of the works council for the Emden plant] said 300 of the current 1500 temporary workers employed at Volkswagen’s Emden plant will not have their contracts renewed in August 2023. Employees were informed about the reduction in electric vehicle production on Monday.
Wulff indicates demand for electric vehicles is up to 30% below originally planned production figures.
“We are experiencing strong customer reluctance in the electric vehicle sector,” he told the North West newspaper.
Granted, this is from VW’s works council, the union group that’s none too happy about the inevitable EV-related job losses, but it’s still notable. It’s also worth noting that like every other car company, VW has had a lot of production problems getting these cars out the door and defect-free—primarily on the software front. The legacy OEMs seem to really struggle there and with battery quality too.
So what does all this mean? I think Toyota’s recently announced plans give you an idea of how this is less about making battery-powered cars and more about revamping how the whole industry works: how cars are made, what the supply lines are like, who is needed to build and engineer them and more. If current trends bear out and prove this is a permanent shift, it’s not going to happen overnight—and I’m not sure it will by the 2030s, either.
Also, the things are still just too damn expensive. Buyers across the world are fed up with sky-high car prices. Something’s gotta give on the affordability front for wider adoption to happen.
Volvo Goes Tesla As SAE Jumps In Too
But as I said, these investments are happening. And plenty of automakers are willing to throw in with the company that already put its money where its mouth is for EV adoption. The latest automaker to commit to Tesla’s charging format is Volvo, joining Ford, General Motors and Rivian. The strategy here is the same too, via Volvo:
Under the agreement future Volvo cars, starting from 2025, will be equipped with the North American Charging Standard (NACS) charging port in the region.
The arrangement gives fully electric Volvo drivers access to 12,000 new fast-charge points, a figure that is expected to grow as Tesla continues to expand its Supercharger network in the region.
Great news for prospective EX30 buyers. I bet Polestar’s next to do this. My earlier criticism of Tesla’s plug (which is great, as is the Supercharger network obviously) it’s that it’s less of a tested, agreed-upon standard and more just one company’s product. Maybe that will change soon, because SAE International is looking to turn it into a real standard now:
This will ensure that any supplier or manufacturer will be able to use, manufacture, or deploy the NACS connector on electric vehicles (EVs) and at charging stations across North America. Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Rivian, and a number of EV charging companies recently announced plans to adopt the NACS connector through adaptors or future product offerings.
The standardization process is the next step to establish a consensus-based approach for maintaining NACS and validating its ability to meet performance and interoperability criteria. The Joint Office of Energy and Transportation was instrumental in fostering the SAE-Tesla partnership and expediting plans to standardize NACS—an important step in building an interoperable national charging network that will work for all EV drivers. This initiative was also announced by The White House today.
Nothing from Tesla on that statement, though NACS is supposedly an “open” standard already. I do hope Tesla’s amenable to this. I think it’s fair to say Elon Musk isn’t a guy who cedes to regulation or outside demands very much.
Small Trucks Fall Short On Rear-Seat Safety
In America, there are basically two safety ratings that matter: the “official” ones from NHTSA, done by the federal government, and then the extra-tough “unofficial” ones rated by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The IIHS comes up with some truly confounding tests, and automakers don’t have to rise to the occasion but they try to so they can stay ahead of the competition and keep their customers from dying. (That tends to be bad for repeat business.)
The latest thing to bedevil automakers is the “updated moderate overlap front test,” an incredibly sexy and catchy name for when only 40% of the vehicle’s front hits a barrier at 40 mph. Imagine hitting a barrier on the highway with only part of your car’s front end. This is a pretty brutal type of crash because it lacks the full protection afforded by the entire front end of the vehicle. Last year, the test was updated to rate the safety of rear occupants too.
The results now: Not great! Especially for smaller trucks:
“Our updated moderate overlap front crash test proved to be challenging for small pickups,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “A common problem was that the rear passenger dummy’s head came dangerously close to the front seatback, and in many cases, dummy measurements indicated a risk of neck or chest injuries. All these things tell us that the rear seat belts need improvement.”
None of the five small crew cab pickups IIHS tested earns a good rating. The Nissan Frontier is rated acceptable. The Ford Ranger earns a marginal rating, and the Chevrolet Colorado, Jeep Gladiator and Toyota Tacoma are all rated poor. The ratings only apply to the crew cab versions.
In the Colorado, Frontier, Ranger and Tacoma, the restraints in the back seat allowed the rear dummy’s head to come too close to the front seatback. That was not an issue for the Gladiator. However, its rear restraints do not include a side curtain airbag, increasing the risk of injury from a hard impact with the interior of the vehicle or even something outside it.
Here’s a graphic from the IIHS showing where the trucks are at:
That is really rough. I hope the answer won’t be to just make the trucks even bigger, because…
[Editor’s Note: You’ll note that three vehicles that just last year would have had solid overall crash test ratings now have “poor” ratings. This happens often; someone buys a car with good crash test ratings, then the next year that same vehicle has a poor rating due to new test procedures. -DT]
More On Those Pedestrian, Cyclist Crashes
We’ve covered this here before, but as safe as modern cars are they’re getting less safe for people outside the car. Blame people driving more around the pandemic and cars and trucks getting bigger and heavier. Traffic deaths are thankfully down in 2023 so far, but the other day when we reported that statistic, I wondered about the breakdown of pedestrian and cyclist deaths too.
Now the New York Times has done its homework on the 2022 numbers and folks, it’s not great:
The number of pedestrians who were struck and killed by vehicles in 2022 was the highest it’s been since 1981, according to a report based on state government data.
At least 7,508 people who were out walking were struck and killed in the United States last year, said the report, published on Friday by the Governors Highway Safety Association, a nonprofit that represents states’ safety offices. The report used preliminary data from government agencies in 49 states and Washington, D.C. (Oklahoma had incomplete data because of a technical issue and was the only state to not provide data, the association said.)
The findings for 2022, and an accompanying analysis of federal government data from 2021, showed that pedestrian deaths in the United States have continued to rise over the last decade.
Lots of reasons for this, including the aforementioned increase in car sizes; the rise in suburbs designed for car travel, not so much safe walking or biking; distracted driving; an aging population more potentially prone to crashes; and our garbage infrastructure. (I’ve stopped running on public roads lately; too many close calls. I do it at the gym instead.)
It is wild that cars keep getting safer and more automated, but this group keeps dying at an accelerated rate. And it’s getting tougher to argue this shouldn’t be a greater focus in car design.
In what way do you think new cars should get safer? I’m deeply reluctant to say “more automated driving” on this one. Good on Waymo for making their robo-taxis pretty decent these days, but it’s hard to see any of that tech catching on in the consumer space anytime soon.
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