DETROIT — Though some drivers are interested in electric vehicles, sales are healthier when it comes to luxury vehicles and trucks, presenting a challenge for automakers.
They must appeal to customers with electric vehicles, because of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guidelines.
The standards, called Corporate Average Fuel Economy or CAFE standards, limit emissions to one gram per mile of greenhouse gasses. The new rules will go into effect in 2017 and continuously get more stringent until 2025.
Bernard Swiecki, with the Center for Automotive Research, said with the improving economy and lower gas prices, consumers have more confidence in their ability to pay for larger vehicles.
Which means they’re not going for the often smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles that car companies need to begin selling to comply with CAFE standards.
That’s a challenge for car companies, as electrified vehicles only had 2.9 percent of the market in 2015, a decline of 12.7 percent from the year before, Swiecki said. Those figures are despite a “greater availability” of electrified vehicles.
Appealing to consumers
To make EPA-approved vehicles appeal to consumers, Honda developed what it calls Earth Dreams Engine Technology.
“It’s not a particular technology, but a design philosophy,” said Chris Martin, a Honda spokesperson. The philosophy is to “achieve maximum fuel efficiency but maintain fun performance.”
For example, the 2016 Civic, voted North American Car of the Year at the auto show, has a 1.5 liter turbo-charged motor, offering better performance and fuel economy.
“Because everybody expects Hondas to be fun to drive,” Martin said.
Because consumers are buying more crossovers and trucks, Honda plans to put its fuel efficient technology into larger vehicles, Martin said.
As for Chevy, Gesse said that there is value in “avoiding a gas station regardless of what it costs.”
They’re not heated, they’re not convenient and drivers no longer have to pay attention to oil-related news, he said.
At Ford, employees “try to stay focused on our customer first,” said Eric Peterson, Ford F-150 marketing manager, though they are aware of CAFE standards.
The recently announced new F-150 Raptor can tow more, haul more and has better gas mileage than before, he said.
“The need for greater fuel economy dovetailed with our plan to give customers more,” he said. “It was more primary than secondary in our plan to go for a new truck.”
One worry when it comes to electric vehicles is that consumers may experience what automakers are calling “range anxiety” when driving one.
Many automakers are focusing on eliminating this anxiety with the models they’re releasing this year.
Ford Motor Co. introduced Fusion Energi, the No. 1 mid-sized plug-in hybrid, as a car that “should eliminate range anxiety,” at the North American International Auto Show on Monday in Detroit.
“Range anxiety” is doubt about how far and long an electric vehicle can travel or the fear of a vehicle running out of power, and automakers have released models with further range this year.
The Energi offers drivers the ability to drive extended distances using just electricity, then use gas when the battery runs low, according to a release from Ford. It said it offers 500+ miles on a tank.
Ford isn’t the only company introducing cars to beat “range anxiety.” Chevrolet also released one. It’s not a hybrid, but a full electric vehicle, and it can go up to 200 miles before needing to be charged again.
The Chevy Bolt EV production version was on display at the show and production on the car will start at the end of 2016, said Darin Gesse, product marketing manager for the car.
The car is priced around $30,000 and has a small crossover exterior, Gesse said.
The previously released Chevy Volt, announced at the 2015 car show, has a 50-mile electric range and then requires gasoline for more distance.
“The Volt is for those customers who want to start going electric but are not ready for (an all-electric) vehicle for all practicality,” Gesse said. “The Bolt EV is tailored to fit a commuting lifestyle.”
The average American drives 40 miles a day, Gesse said, and the 200-mile range allows for life to be “unpredictable.”
The range is “similar to a conventional vehicle with a half tank of gas,” he said.
Reach Danae King at 567-242-0511 or on Twitter @DanaeKing.