EV Offensive Looking More and More Like a Decoy Attack

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
ev offensive looking more and more like a decoy attack

Mercedes-Benz is nixing its all-electric EQ hatchback, according to R&D boss Markus Schäfer. Instead, it’s going to play a GLA-sized EQA crossover as its next hand.

Speaking with Autocar, Schäfer basically said it was a question of market demand. The EQC has already been delayed until at least 2021 for U.S. customers, though we’ve heard talk that its suspension could prove indefinite as the brand reassesses what should — and shouldn’t — be included in its future lineup. “We have to watch customer demand and, at the moment, SUVs and crossovers are the absolute favorites. Those are our first priorities,” Mercedes’ R&D head explained.

It’s only the latest chapter in a complicated story about an industry that’s constantly having to rethink how it handles electric cars.

Here’s a thing I don’t like about EVs: they’re surrounded by bullshit. Despite being impressively quiet, a novel experience, and frequently fun to drive, they’re beset on all sides by marketing chatter and false promises.

On the one hand, automakers are under pressure from regulators and the green movement to minimize emissions — which is one reason engines continue shrinking in size and mounds of cash are being sunk into electric vehicle programs. They’re basically doing what they feel they have to while making it seem like they’re absolutely committed to the environment. While the ecological impact of EVs can be debated, they’re broadly seen by the public as better for the planet.

While Michael Moore’s latest documentary ( which is free online) undercuts some of their presumed benefits, raising new questions among mainstream minds, eco warriors still see electric automobiles as the next best thing to not driving. Meanwhile, automakers have begun rolling back some of their earlier promises. As the pandemic depletes cash reserves, automakers are clearly planning to stick with what works — internal combustion and interior volume.

This wouldn’t be so frustrating if we hadn’t spent the last five years hearing about the electric revolution that’s always just over the horizon, plus the obligatory corporate pledges to environmentalism. Truth be told, the industry made a lot of headway with electrics in a relatively short time frame… even if production targets look unfeasible or continue being pushed back.

Performance is improving, costs are coming down, and range/charging is nearing a point where it matters much less than it used to. It’s been rather impressive; something must be going right with EVs to warrant Tesla’s continued existence (a company that’s equally guilty of over-promising). And yet it’s getting harder for mainstream manufacturers to continue pretending they’re as committed as once claimed.

EV buyers, at this stage, tend to have more money in the bank than, say, someone who is simply shopping for reliable transportation in order to remain employed. This has encouraged some carmakers to prioritize luxury models while placing a weaker emphasis on petite electrics with a lessened carbon footprint. While the difference between Mercedes’ EQA and a slightly smaller hatchback are probably minimal in terms of how they impact air quality, sticking with SUVs and crossovers across the board (as Schäfer seems to be suggesting) prioritizes sales over the environment.

That’d be fine if the concepts weren’t frequently at odds with each other — and didn’t contradict much of the corporate messaging we’ve endured these past few years.

While the EQA isn’t particularly large, subsequent EVs probably will be. In fact, luxury nameplates out of Europe seem to be embracing heavier electric crossovers at the expense of more economical models. Japanese and Korean brands have largely avoided this low-tier hypocrisy by under-promising electrification and focusing on budget-conscious electrics (for now), but American automakers that don’t contain the word “Chrysler” in their name are promising big-boy e-SUVs, and soon.

But both the GMC Hummer and Ford Mach E electric vehicles have evperienced some measure of delay due to the coronavirus. Ford also splashed cold water on the idea of a Rivian-based Lincoln SUV, saying it would ultimately find something else to do with the EV platform. Cadillac similarly postponed the debut of the mid-sized Lyriq until the pandemic has passed; that model rides on an entirely new architecture that will underpin all future electric models from General Motors.

While some of these cars will probably re-emerge as the industry realizes that waiting around for trade shows is a loser’s game when COVID-19 is on the loose and lockdowns are in fashion, we’d wager that some will quietly disappear from production plans. This includes existing models, such as Honda’s battery driven Clarity — a California exclusive which ceased production at the start of 2020.

So what’s going on?

Our guess is that mainstream brands have painted themselves into a bit of a corner. Tesla spent forever hemorrhaging cash, but eventually delivered interesting and highly desirable products as well as a charging network to support them. With the exception of Volkswagen, few other automakers have bothered to address infrastructure in a meaningful way ( and VW only did so because it was forced to). They’re also trying to position EVs as an extension of their core lineup as they continue fine-tuning purpose-built platforms intended for electrics. This is costing them all a fortune while the segment matures to a point where it might someday be truly profitable. But today is not that day.

Tomorrow might not be that day, either. While we’ll keep seeing battery electric vehicles added to the market, their big push into normalcy will be delayed by the economic influence of the coronavirus. Unless things rebound miraculously over the next few months, we’re in for a long stretch of an industry and customer base that’s cagey with money. Costly development programs will look far less useful when the product in question has limited market appeal.

The coronavirus won’t kill the electric car, despite sporadic claims to the contrary. But the industry is clearly less interested in them at present. Recent projections state EV sales will drop 43 percent in 2020 — and that was back in April, before the extensions of regional lockdowns. The electric car’s final tally could be worse, which doesn’t put electrics in a terribly different situation than internal combustion vehicles. Still, oil is abundant right now and fuel is cheap. P ickup sales stayed strong as other segments fell by the wayside this year (though tempting truck deals may have simply been too delicious to ignore).

What say you? Is the all-electric product offensive being forced into an organized retreat due to market realities, or will automakers remain committed to electric vehicles at their former pace once COVID-19 becomes less of a problem/valid-sounding excuse?

[Image: Daimler AG]

Comments
Join the conversation
2 of 58 comments
  • Tele Vision Tele Vision on May 08, 2020

    Due to virtue-signalling being a one-man show these EV fans regularly ignore the wider scope of their demands of the rest of us. To wit: Say goodbye to air travel, for starters. Also, say sayonara to imported and exported goods, because bunker fuel, which needs to be heated by burning Diesel fuel before it can be pumped to the freighter's massive engine(s), is incredibly polluting when combusted. No more cruise ships, either. All boating, in fact, but for trolling motors on a tin boat. No more freight trains or over-the-road B-trains. Oh, and better recall the military and park/land/moor it, except for the carriers and submarines, I suppose. No aircraft on the aircraft carriers, though, including CODs and helicopters. Maybe a wee drone or two, I guess, to take some pictures. Or do the EV fans want to have their cake AND eat it, too, like all self-centered hypocrites? Do they want Italian marble for their McMansions and a few weeks in Tahiti every year and sweet new phones annually and the satisfaction of seeing their mighty military bomb the Hell out of a country they can't find on a globe - but still have the smug superiority common to the EV owner? Obviously, I think so.

  • Superdessucke Superdessucke on May 10, 2022

    "EV buyers, at this stage, tend to have more money in the bank than, say, someone who is simply shopping for reliable transportation in order to remain employed." By God! More new knowledge for me today! Feel like I'm back in college here.

  • ToolGuy VW (marque not group) and Tesla very nearly switched positions on a YTD basis.
  • RHD Inexpensive gasoline appears to be a thing of the past. ILO is correct - we have enough sunlight, wind and emerging ocean wave energy to power the entire country and then some. Clean air is nice, and being free of the whims of OPEC, geopolitics and hugely profitable oil companies will do all of us a world of good.
  • Raymond Segura Can you tell me where I can get the rear bumper for 69 impala?
  • Art Vandelay some of the crazy numbers I get. Percentages look bigger with any fluctuations with low volume makes and brands leaving the market will see massive month over month changes. But what’s with Buick? I still see the occasional ad on TV and yet the drop is disproportionate even compared to all the other GM brands.
  • Master Baiter "There is no mandate for consumers to buy EVs, not in any country or state. That’s made up."Right. And you are not mandated to purchase a toilet that only uses 1.6 gallons/flush. You could choose to not have a toilet--just go in the woods, like the bears do.
Next