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New Year, Same Bad Habits

tl;dr: EVs won't be much different than gasoline powered vehicles, and that is a problem.

I believe that this year will be a banner year for the sale of electric vehicles. Despite my cautions about going all in on select technologies, it appears that the US auto market will indeed be doubling down on EVs. Most of you are probably thinking that this is something to be celebrated, and while that is partially true, we are looking at a landscape where instead of profound change and benefit, the only thing that will be changing is the engine, and that is indeed a problem.

One of the challenges that face EVs overcoming gasoline powered vehicles in popularity is price. The cheapest EV is the Chevrolet Bolt, which benefitted from a whopping $5,900 price cut to come in at $26,595. The next most affordable vehicle is the Nissan Leaf, starting at $28,895. Currently, the least expensive gasoline powered vehicle is also from Chevrolet, the Chevy Spark, which one can acquire new for only $14,595. If you want to get one, you better do it now, as the Spark will be discontinued after this year. Why is it being discontinued? Well, because Chevrolet wants you to consider their crossover brands Trax and Trailblazer, which both start at over $20,000. The bottom line is that there is a $12,000 difference between the most affordable gasoline powered car and the entry level EV.

Crossovers are still annoyingly popular. While they haven’t been able to topple the domination of the pickup truck, which once again swept the medal stand with the Ford F-Series taking gold, Chevy Silverado the silver and Ram Pickup the bronze, The Toyota Rav4 came in 4th. In fact, out of the top 25 best selling cars last year, crossovers took 4th, 8th, 11th, 13th, 16th, 18th, 19th, 21st, 22nd, and 24th place.

Car&Driver Top 25 Best Selling Cars, Trucks and SUVs of 2022

Crossovers are highlighted in red and number is units sold last year

25: Honda Civic – 133,932

24. Ford Escape – 137,370

23. Nissan Altima – 139,955

22. Subaru Outback – 147,262

21. Mazda CX-5 – 151,594

20. Honda Accord – 154,612

19. Subaru Crosstrek – 155,142

18. Hyundai Tucson – 175,307

17. Jeep Wrangler – 181,409

16. Nissan Rogue – 186,480

15. Tesla Model 3 – 190,472

14. Ford Explorer – 207,673

13. Chevrolet Equinox – 212,072

12. Toyota Corolla – 222,216

11. Toyota Highlander – 222,805

Toyota RAV4

10. Jeep Grand Cherokee – 222,345

9. Toyota Tacoma – 237,323

8. Honda CR-V – 238,155

7. GMC Sierra – 241,522

6. Tesla Model Y – 253,793

5. Toyota Camry – 295,201

4. Toyota RAV4 – 399,941

3. Ram Pickup – 468,344

2. Chevy Silverado – 513,354

1. Ford F-Series – 653,957

Why am I railing on about the popularity of crossovers and what does this have to do EVs? Cars have been getting consistently bigger and bigger. Both my wife and I used to drive Mini Coopers, which were famously on the smaller side of the vehicular size spectrum. I’m not sure if you’ve seem a Mini recently, but the name is much less appropriate today. The 2023 Mini Cooper is now almost 7” longer than the ones we had in 2010. The wheelbase is longer, it’s wider, taller, heavier, and slightly less fuel efficient as well. It is not the exception to the rule. Almost all vehicles are getting bigger and heavier. Vehicles dropped massively in weight during late 70s and early 80s in response to the oil crisis and scarcity of gasoline. Ever since then, they have slowly crept back up in weight and now have surpassed that 2 ton average to be heavier than ever.

The strange thing about bigger cars is that it takes more material to make them (read this in the most sarcastic tone that you can muster). This also tends to drive prices higher or at least keep them about the same. We need to lower the costs of EVs, and making bigger and bigger frames doesn’t help keep prices down. The automotive industry will say that they are just responding to consumer demand, but the reality is that they have a lot of control over what kind of vehicles people buy because they make the damn things. Something can’t gain popularity if it doesn’t exist or if it is priced out of consideration.

Not only are smaller cars cheaper to make, but they are also far more efficient to operate. Here is the list of vehicles with the best fuel economy last year:

US News & World Report Top 14 Cars with the Best Gas Mileage

2022 Hyundai Ioniq

14. Toyota Venza - 39MPG - Crossover

13. Toyota RAV4 Hybrid - 40MPG - Crossover

12. Ford Escape Hybrid – 41MPG - Crossover

11. Lexus UX 250h – 42MPG

10. Toyota Avalon Hybrid – 44MPG

9. Lexus ES Hybrid – 44MPG

8. Honda Accord Hybrid – 47MPG

7. Kia Niro – 49MPG – Crossover

6. Hyundai Sonata – 52MPG

5. Toyota Camry – 52MPG

4. Honda Insight – 52MPG

3. Hyundai Elantra – 54MPG

2. Toyota Prius – 56MPG

1. Hyundai Ioniq – 59MPG

There is only one crossover in the top 10 most fuel-efficient vehicles. One would think that the lesson the industry would take from this would be to offer consumers that want green vehicles more sedans and compact vehicles. I guarantee you that they will, in fact, do the exact opposite. They will market EV versions of crossover models that are selling like gangbusters today. Will they be better options than gasoline powered vehicles? Yes, they will be, but we overlook the fact that we could accomplish so much more. We could have longer ranges, smaller battery sizes, and lower prices if we had a multitude of choices in the compact EV market. We won’t achieve this because the auto manufacturers don’t necessarily want to. They want you to buy the vehicles they think you want, and they will continue to make those vehicles, which means you buy them, and the cycle of self-fulfilling projections continues. We have plenty of history to back this up.

When we lived in Texas, almost everyone drove a pickup truck, whether they truly needed one or not. They still do and that’s why the top 3 vehicles every year for the past 3 decades have always been pickup trucks. Trucks are stupidly popular. They are also very unnecessary for many people who drive them. Many people have one because they want to have one, not because they need one. SUVs are similar in that manner. People don’t really need a GMC Yukon or a Denali. They like the size. Now crossovers are in the same category. We are driving big vehicles for no real reason, and EVs aren’t going to escape the gravitational pull toward getting bigger and heavier. Manufacturers will just repeat the previous trend and reduce the benefit of transitioning from petroleum to electricity. I’m not saying that we all need to be driving electric SMART cars and Minis, but it would be fantastic if they were just as popular as the SUV or crossover.

A huge step to achieving this is for auto companies to make more of them, but they won’t. Remenber when Chevy was reducing access to cheaper models? Ford took it a step further, because now if you are interested in buying a sedan or coupe, your only option is the Mustang. Everything else is crossover, SUV, or truck. Making the F-150 Lightning (the electric version) is undoubtedly pretty cool, but making an electric version of the Focus would have been even cooler. Ford didn’t do it because they claim it wouldn’t sell. Perhaps we need to see if that is the truth or not, but right now, car companies seem to be more than happy just repeating the same trends for EVs, whether it is a smart decision or not. Many people reference the EV revolution, but to be truly revolutionary, we have to do more than just swap the engine.

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