For all the individualists out there, some patterns of modern life can be mildly depressing. Not in a major way, just in that it is disheartening to observe mindless conformity when alternatives are so much more interesting. In case you hadn’t noticed, conformity is not part of this column’s DNA, a trait which all are free to mock or applaud to their heart’s content.
The auto world provides a plethora of examples for us energy junkies. We now see, for example, a conformity of style that is not only boring but dangerous. On both cars and SUVS, tiny rear windows and squashed roofs are now the norm, with the compounding absurdity that we now need all sorts of cameras and sensors simply in order to see what’s happening around the vehicle and make reversing possible. And almost all manufacturers have piled on this phenomenon, because individuality in the competitive auto market can lead to premature death. Auto publications heap praise on modern designs and ridicule anything different, and manufacturers don’t like to be embarrassed. Better to have timid conformity than a sales flop.
That is all well and good; it is a free market and style is subjective. A line is crossed though when the mob’s mentality is bending public opinion in mischievous ways that imply a reality that doesn’t’ really exist. Such is the case with electric vehicles.
If one reads auto news, or even more dangerously if one only notes the headlines, it seems obvious that electric cars have taken over the market. Some articles point to the demise of gas stations and the rise of auto charging stations. The autos and antics of Tesla dominate the headlines, and indeed Tesla’s market capitalization has recently surpassed Ford and General Motors, companies that are both much larger and more established. Every manufacturer offers hybrid options on multiple vehicles, and those garner the noise and the headlines.
But not only do manufacturers offer multiple hybrid options, they also offer multiple SUV options. And those SUV options are clobbering not just hybrids but everything else in their path. The phenomenon isn’t unfamiliar to North Americans, but what is amazing is that it is happening in the heart of the eco-movement as well.
That’s right, even Europe is switching to SUVs. On the continent, SUVs are the fastest growing segment accounting for 27 percent and climbing. Of course many are smaller SUVs and some are hybrids, but the trend to larger and less efficient is clear. European auto publications have for years bashed the habits of North Americans, endlessly mocking the cars, SUVs, and pickups that dominate over here. Recently however the tone has completely changed, with one publication naming the Nissan Qashqai (a small SUV with an inexplicable name) a “perfect” vehicle. The same publication points out how Jaguar has been saved by the introduction of an SUV, and will surely have more to come. True, Jaguar is soon to introduce an all-electric SUV, but no one expects it to become a best seller.
The rage to redefine what’s actually happening has been so intense that it’s glossed over some aspects that should be stories, but aren’t. Charging cars in the UK used to be free, but it’s not any longer, and it’s not cheap (in the UK, a popular provider charges 6 pounds for a half hour charge). One auto writer, owner of an electric vehicle so obviously a fan, had this to say: “In time, it is inevitable that running an electric car will cost as much as running a combustion-engined one today. But that time hasn’t arrived yet and, if electricity really is going to become more expensive than diesel, I fear buyers will vote with their wallets.”
It is true that there are a great many hybrid cars being introduced, which tends to skew headlines, but the reason for this has little to do with demand and much to do with California. The state has mandated that any manufacturer that wishes to sell autos in California must sell a certain percentage of zero emissions vehicles (or assemble enough credits elsewhere) so automakers have been eager to develop at least token models. These efforts don’t come cheap; GM estimates it will lose up to $9,000 per Chevy Bolt for each one it sells. Quite the strategy, that. As with many government programs, the scheme is distorting the market wildly, while the US cruises towards record high sales of anything but small electric cars.
The home of the SUV has seen the market extend that lead significantly; three years ago SUVs and trucks represented 50 percent of the US market, now it is 63 percent.
Some will read this and take it as an attack on electric vehicles, or as an affront to environmentalists. It is neither. It is simply the facts thus far that despite the hype and extensive media coverage, adoption of hybrid and electric vehicles are not happening at a meaningful level, yet. Tesla news dominates the auto sector and the company is worth more than GM, while Tesla sells 100,000 cars per year and GM sells 10 million .
Does this matter? In some ways not, because it is what it is – the marketplace is voting with its wallet. On the other hand, it is very important information for those who wish to mandate a new greener future for everyone else. Humans aren’t cooperating, and if the world is to be saved by changing people’s transportation habits, this tactic is not working at all.
Read more insightful analysis from Terry Etam here