EV improvements will still need to satisfy shoppers

Long before California Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a 2035 ban on new gasoline-powered light vehicles in the state, the auto industry was working hard on electric vehicles. Their driving performance is now shockingly good. Their environmental benefits — while a function of how electricity is produced — are proven as well.

Mainstream automakers as well as premium and luxury brands will soon bring an unprecedented array of attractive, useful vehicles to the U.S. market. But even as prices become more competitive and charging more commonplace, automakers and dealers need one more thing: satisfied customers.

In this decade, they aren’t going to sell like Silverados and Accords — they don’t have to. But unlike the underpowered science projects of the past, these more mainstream products provide the chance to reach a bigger segment of the market and help manufacturers learn how to profitably serve these customers.

So far, electric vehicles have been little more than a highly subsidized niche market in the U.S. That’s not much of a track record for automakers as they lay out their investment plans for future EVs.

A sustainable industry — as well as a sustainable planet — requires a top-to-bottom rethink of the way vehicles are produced, marketed, sold, powered and recycled. Just as it has done with battery costs to date, the industry needs to continue to relentlessly drive down costs and improve performance. That has always been the key to increasing customer satisfaction — while making money.

Wall Street is wild about EVs now, hoping to find the next Tesla. But one thing Tesla has going for it is a large number of enthusiastic customers. Other battery-powered vehicles have not enjoyed the same kind of demand, especially not at scale.

Most automakers were dragged into the EV business. Few, if any, projected a financial return anytime soon on what would be a sizable investment. But regulations around the world — not just in California, but especially in China and Europe — forced their collective hands. So they invested, and now they have the well-crafted products to show for it.

Crucial tests await the crop of attractive EV crossovers from the likes of Ford and Volkswagen, Hyundai and Nissan, as well as the wide array of planned electric pickups.