Right now, hybrids have 2 percent of the passenger car market in the U.S., and completely electric vehicles are still a rarity. Even in EV-friendly California, battery-powered cars only hold 2.7 percent of the market.
But in a car industry roiled by self-driving vehicles and self-promoting Tesla, which is now valued as highly as General Motors and far more highly than Ford, automakers have to sell more than cars to be seen as exciting by Wall Street. They’ve got to be technology companies, not manufacturers. And that means developing autonomous systems, rethinking the motive power under the hood, and figuring out the art of bold pronouncements.
So, I compiled all the grand promises that the world’s traditional carmakers have made in the past two years or so, and one thing is clear: Either the automotive world is going to undergo a radical transformation around 2020, or these companies have seriously erred in their planning.
On the electric side, the company has promised a sporty little electric vehicle called the I.D. by 2020. VW had bet heavily on what it termed “clean diesel” technology as its powertrain of the future. But as last year's major scandal revealed, their engines weren't that clean under normal road conditions. Instead, the company's engineers had built them to run artificially well under testing conditions (and only under testing conditions). That's left the company with a reputation to repair and a newfound interest in the benefits of electric vehicles.
GM’s big self-driving play so far has been its Super Cruise system for semi-autonomous highway driving. After a delay, Super Cruise will debut this fall on the Cadillac CT6. Drivers will only be allowed to switch on the autopilot when they’re on the highway, and the company has built sensors that track drivers' head movements and prod them to keep focused on the road, even when the computer is driving.
GM has already delivered on a major promise in electrification with the introduction of the Chevy Bolt EV earlier this year. It’s rated at 238 miles per charge — and costs about $36,000 before tax incentives, which in California could bring the price down to $25,000.
But the Hyundai-Kia automotive group’s parts supplier Hyundai-Mobis has already laid out its roadmap for the next decade. The company will offer some components for autonomous systems by 2020, with mass production coming in 2022. They described themselves as in “fast follower” rather than “leader” mode. And they’re trying to make self-driving work without the laser systems that add to the price and complexity of systems like Waymo’s.
In August 2016, Ford promised a fully self-driving car—sans steering wheel—by 2021. The company reaffirmed that commitment this spring. Ford’s plan is to have self-driving cars available in some sort of ride-sharing fleet. The company is also aggressively investing in and snatching up startup companies working on the foundational technologies for self-driving cars like sensors and maps.
Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn had made several big promises about self-driving cars. Back in 2013, he said that the company would have autonomous vehicles for sale at reasonable prices by 2020. He reaffirmed that in 2015 (with some caveats). And in 2016, the company said it would have 10 car models with some autonomy baked in by 2020.
The company has had mainstream success with hybrid vehicles, but has not gone all-in on electrification like some of its competitors. In part, that’s because Toyota continues to push fuel-cell vehicles.