GM and other automakers face Covid slowdown in electric vehicle interest

Can cool vehicles like the electric Hummer pickup with crab-walk and torgue features penetrate buyer hesitation for EVs? (GM)

General Motors plans to produce 30 models of electric vehicles (EVs) through 2025, but it faces the challenge alongside other carmakers of grabbing buyer interest.

COVID-19 seems to have sapped the allure of EVs, at least in the short term.

According to a recent Deloitte survey, future car buyers in six major countries including the U.S. said they preferred buying a vehicle with an internal combustion engine (ICE) at a higher percentage than just a year earlier.

Free Daily Newsletter

Interesting read? Subscribe to FierceElectronics!

The electronics industry remains in flux as constant innovation fuels market trends. FierceElectronics subscribers rely on our suite of newsletters as their must-read source for the latest news, developments and predictions impacting their world. Sign up today to get electronics news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

In the U.S., 74% of 879 buyers said in late 2020 that they preferred an ICE, compared to buying a hybrid electric, battery electric or other vehicle.  That was up from a similar survey a year earlier when the ICE preference was significantly lower at 59%. Two years ago, the ICE preference was 80%.

While excitement in buying EV models has been building steadily, the reversal in the latest study was notable, said Masa Hasegawa, a principal at Deloitte.  “It’s a little bit intriguing. Across the major countries there is a decline of EV preference,” he said in an interview with Fierce Electronics.

“With the pandemic, consumers may be falling back to tried and true technology that they are more familiar with, or they are feeling affordability pressure,” he added.

A majority of buyers preferred internal combustion in India, German and China at a higher percentage than a year earlier. In Japan, and South Korea, the preference for combustion engine vehicles was 45% and 43%, but still at a slightly higher rate than a year earlier.

Deloitte found the top concern about battery EVs was driving range in both the U.S. and Germany, while lack of charging infrastructure was the top concern in Japan, South Korea and India. The top concern about battery EVs in China was safety.

The survey also found that consumer perception of connected vehicles offering infotainment and other features appears to be edging up as being beneficial in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea, but actually declined slightly in the U.S. and Germany. In all the six countries, a majority said they feared someone could hack into their connected car and risk their personal safety. That concern was felt by 64% of 1,018 people surveyed in the U.S.

The top advanced feature that U.S., German and Korean consumers said they want is a blind spot warning/alert. For Japan, China and India, the top feature was automatic emergency braking.

Deloitte also evaluated how much consumers would be willing to pay for EVs and connected technology in a new car.  A majority in the U.S., Germany and U.S. said they wouldn’t pay more than $500 for features such as safety, connectivity, infotainment, autonomy, and alternative engine solutions.  In the U.S., 74% said they wouldn’t pay more than $500 for infotainment and 57% said they wouldn’t pay more than $500 for EVs.

Deloitte said that carmakers that want to generate a return on their investment in new car tech need to “build value in both EVs and connected technology.”

For GM, the focus on new EV cars has cut across a range of car models that offer various features: luxury and style with Cadillac models and sporty, rugged features in the new GMC Hummer EV pickup.

 During a presentation at the all-digital CES 2021, GM focused on the rock-climbing crabwalk and torque capabilities of the Hummer. A special Watts to Freedom experience allows the truck’s air suspension to lower its body while the electronics condition the powertrain and battery pack for optimal performance. 

When the WTF function is enabled, a driver holds down the brake pedal, then loads the accelerator, and then dumps the brake pedal to blast off.

With such features and more, GM said the high-end Edition 1 version of the Hummer is priced at $112,000 while future versions will be lower in price.

Other high-end EV models of SUVs, pickups and sedans are entering the market, but analysts are wondering how great the buying appetite will be as COVID-19 impacts buying patterns.

GM CEO Mary Barra expressed EV optimism during her CES 2021 keynote.

“At General Motors, our vision for future is a world with zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” she said. “The key to unlock that vision is electrification.”

 GM introduced the plug-in hybrid Volt in 2011, but the global EV market is still just 3% a decade later.

“We believe that is all about to change,” Barra said. “After one of the most difficult years in recent history, this moment will prove to be an inflection point, the moment when our world’s reliance on gas and diesel-powered vehicles will begin transitioning to an all-electric future. GM intends to lead that change.”

GM will invest $27 billion in EV and autonomous vehicles through 2025, she said. “We believe we have the technology, talent, and ambition to deliver on that commitment, to challenge perceptions and to inspire drivers and lead the world into a new era. We are repositioning our company to meet this moment.”

RELATED: GM wows CES 2021 with flying car concept, Ultium battery system and BrightDrop for logistics