The concept of electric cars isn’t anything new. In fact, the early decades of automobile history saw the invention and advancement of many electric propulsion vehicles. However, gasoline power was thought to be cheaper, easier, and in endless supply, so internal combustion became the name of the game. And it’s remained so for a good century. But times, they are a-changin’. Global leaders are constantly fighting over oil. Environmentalists continually urge us toward greater conservation. And giant tech companies are now elbowing into the auto-manufacturing biz. Thus, electric cars are on the market with renewed popularity and an aggressive plan to stick around for a while—a long while.
With this great change, comes great questions. Some are concrete, wondering how this will effect manufacturing processes or consumer purchasing habits. Other are more philosophical and question the cultural and ethical impact of electric cars. What could this mean for the industry we’ve come to know and love? How do we expect auto manufacturers and aftermarket professionals to respond to such a fundamental shift? Does a ban on gas and diesel vehicles wipe out motorsport activities? And what kind of an effect could this have on traditional shop owners and hobbyists, let alone everyday drivers? Is this the end of internal combustion altogether?! Or a big kick in the pants to reinvent what internal combustion means?
Right now, there may be more questions than answers. But together, we can all take a deep breath and make some informed predictions. Better yet, we can offer some sound, communal advice to help industry professionals navigate such a sharp curve.
A Breath of Fresh Air
The International Energy Agency recently released a report claiming that nearly 6.5 million people die each year from air pollution. And while the majority of those deaths are in developing industrial nations like China and India, other countries who already practice strict pollution control are taking heed and doubling down on existing regulations. The nations of the G7 have announced an end to fossil fuel subsidies by 2025. Some major cities like Paris are actually banning older model vehicles. And the US has shown that if auto manufacturers are unwilling or unable to clean up their emissions, they’ll face lawsuits and steep fines (sorry, Volkswagen). Like Paris’ bold move, California lawmakers, too, have even been considering a total ban on the sale of internal combustion engines.
On the surface, things look tough for auto manufacturers. But the situation isn’t quite as dire as it seems. Before you get ready to head for the hills, let’s think. Yes, fuel-economy standards continue to get stricter, and eventually they will reach a level that IC engines just can’t match. But for now, automakers stand in a pretty good spot. Gas prices are holding (relatively) steady. Add in all the new advancements in fuel economy technology, and the market can welcome back traditional guzzlers and fan favorites like the three-row SUV. Meanwhile, manufacturers can still devote R&D funds to creating electric cars that not only meet the government’s standards, but are also something that buyers will actually want to drive. So, the OE’s will continue to cash in on traditional vehicle sales while building new customers and fostering an image of environmental sustainability. Win, win—right?
From Carriage Trade to Mass Market
Redesigning the concept of the everyday vehicle might not seem particularly fun when there’s a seemingly infinite checklist of environmental criteria to meet. But those parameters should help eliminate years of trial and error full of liability lawsuits. Take the Tesla Model 3, for example. Within a decade, Elon Musk’s company took a prohibitively expensive novelty and managed to create an electric car for the masses. The base model starts around $35,000 and promises 220 miles of range. It’s loaded with tech and even has self-driving capabilities. And frankly, it just looks really cool. Though they hate to admit it, a lot of people can easily imagine themselves driving one. “This first time I drove one,” said racing icon Dan Gurney, “I was disappointed.” When the Tesla team asked why, Gurney replied with, “It’s so much better than I hoped.”
Fellow auto makers have taken note. Hyundai, Ford, GM, Volvo, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz, and Aston-Martin all have plans to create new EV models or expand their current lineup before 2020, with Volkswagen hoping to deliver more than 30 electric cars by 2025 and become a leader in sustainable mobility.
Teach a Man to Fish
If we absorb anything discussing this topic, it’s that we as industry professionals, from automakers and wholesale distributors to retailers and restylers, can’t just wait around for the customer to call the shots. Get ahead of the trends. And dare to set a few yourself! Listen to what consumers are saying but, more importantly, learn to anticipate needs as well. Some, like Jason Sakurai, Director of Marketing at Hypertech, are taking a head-on approach by getting involved early to have a better understanding of where the next wave of tech is taking us.
“EV and autonomous vehicles are in many ways opposing forces to the automotive aftermarket and enthusiasts. We as a company are participating in the SEMA ETTN (Emerging Trends & Technologies Network), realizing that at some point we will no doubt have to come to grips with these changing technologies, and it’s better to do so in conjunction with other SEMA member companies. Whether we share technology or make our products compatible with each other, it could go a long way towards modifying these types of vehicles to be more enthusiast friendly,” said Sakurai.
As electric cars become more proficient and less expensive commodities, they will inevitably gain in popularity. But until legislation catches up, there will still be a huge chunk of the population driving their beloved old-school polluters. Take notice of the macro trends and sweeping changes taking place. But also trust your years of professional experience to guide this next stage of business development.
Check back soon for Part 2! We’ll discuss where we see this trend going and how you can capitalize!