The Very Slow Rise of the All-Electric SUV

By · May 30, 2019


Audi e-tron SUV

Why is it taking so long for automakers to electrify SUVs? Will it ever happen?

Most of the excitement about new all-electric vehicles is being generated in the crossover-SUV segment. New models, such as the Audi e-tron, Jaguar I-Pace, and Hyundai Kona EV, are beginning to roll out on US roads. It’s only logical for automakers to introduce new battery-powered models in the red-hot crossover market—rather than as sedans that have fallen from favor.

But we’ve heard about the rise of electric SUVs for a couple of years. So far, these promising new, larger EVs—some of which are barely larger than traditional sedans—have had little impact on advancing the EV movement. Will we see signs of change when May sales numbers are reported early next week? I’m not holding my breath.

The point of automakers sacrificing efficiency for size and convenience in new EV models is to boost sales numbers—and jumpstart an electric-vehicle revolution. But the only all-electric SUV to show real signs of popularity is the Tesla Model X, introduced in 2015.

Unfortunately, sales of the Model X appear to have maxed out. There was growth in Model X sales from about 18,000 units in 2016, up to 21,000 in 2017, and 26,000 in 2018. But this year’s numbers are on track to dip to around 15,000 sales—suggesting that the market for an $80,000 to $100,000 SUV is reaching exhaustion. (A few weeks ago, Tesla tried to reverse the loss by dropping the Model X’s price by $2,000.) At the same time, the first few months of availability for the Jaguar I-Pace, Audi E-Tron, and Hyundai Kona EV are barely a blip with about 200 or fewer monthly sales for these vehicles.

That’s a problem based on automotive analysts predicting that SUVs could represent around 50 percent of the vehicle market as soon as next year. Obviously, the shift in mainstream purchasing from cars to heavier and less aerodynamic SUVs (which is happening on a global level) will decrease efficiency and increase emissions. Apparently, consumers care less about efficiency and more about easy ingress, a high riding position, and additional space for passengers and cargo.

SUV Buyers vs. EV Buyers

Offering zero-emission, all-electric versions of crossovers could be the answer. But not if current patterns persist—dwindling Model X sales and meager production numbers for new models from Audi, Jaguar, and Hyundai-Kia. What’s unknown is if mainstream buyers who want a crossover (and have devil-may-care attitudes about emissions) are willing to pay a premium for an EV that—let’s face it—requires overcoming concerns about charging and range.

Automakers need electrification to meet fuel-efficiency standards. Therefore, in addition to the Tesla Model X and the other recently introduced electric SUVs, these new models will go on sale in the next year or two:

  • Mercedes-Benz EQC
  • Tesla Model Y
  • Byton M-BYTE
  • Ford Mustang-Inspired EV
  • BMW iX3
  • Three More Audi e-tron models (the Sportback, GT, and Q4)

The future of EVs—whether they will come to represent more than 1 percent of the new vehicle market—will start to become evident after these new (mostly luxury) models become available next year. But we don’t have to wait for the picture to emerge. This season’s sales numbers of the few currently available crossover EVs will be the writing on the wall.

New to EVs? Start here

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  2. Incentives for Plug-in Hybrids and Electric Cars
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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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