Tesla is a lot of things to a lot of people, but if you’ve found yourself in the “catch up” position that most legacy auto makers have these days in producing zero-emissions vehicles, the all-electric newcomer is a force that needs to be slowed down by something… Anything, really. What about a diesel revival? What about customer demand? What about a hydrogen revolution?
Well, what about them?
First things first, let’s recognize that unlike most of its petrol brethren, Porsche read the memo early about inevitable vehicle electrification (after a bit of push back, naturally), and its first major step was to dump diesel. CEO Oliver Blume summarized as much in a recent statement to CNN. “We as a sports car manufacturer…have come to the conclusion that we would like our future to be diesel-free,” he commented on the company’s announcement of the decision. The all-electric Taycan is set to be unveiled in September, and from what we’ve seen so far, it looks like it will be a power-packed beauty worthy of the Porsche name. Bravo!
What about diesel and demand?
Moving on, we all know Volkswagen’s original competitive strategy to sell “lower emissions” diesel vehicles was bunk, not to mention highly illegal and very expensive to make amends for, and most of us know they’ve since invested a lot of (forced) money into green energy projects to make up for it. (See: Dieselgate) Some of us may even think they’ve finally come around to agreeing with Elon Musk and company about the direction of the automotive industry with their upcoming Volkswagen ID. family of e-cars and other pretty words put out to that effect.
I have my doubts, but more on that in a bit.
One of the interesting perspectives on electric vehicles (EVs) I’ve read coming from a legacy auto executive was from Ralf Speth, CEO of Jaguar Land Rover. “According to industry forecasters, a global share of 20 percent to 30 percent for electrified vehicles is expected by 2025. When you turn this around, it means that 70 percent to 80 percent of all vehicles around the world will have conventional engines. Let me add that today’s diesels…are absolutely CO2-efficient and clean,” Speth told the publication Automobilwoche in a recent interview. I guess he’s not wrong on current stock, but having a lot of clearance items on a rack is only a selling point for so long. This is both “whataboutism” and a strange variation of the “cup is half full” metaphor. (The cup is 70-80% full of mixer when I ordered a shot? Sorry.)
Speth also claimed electric cars are still too expensive and have poor infrastructure to lure in many customers. It’s almost like he’s never heard of Tesla or his own company’s EV, the award-winning I-PACE. It’s almost like he forgot what his own company’s luxury vehicles cost at the baseline. (Hint: It’s more than $35k) There’s talk that Jaguar might go all-electric in the next 10 years, but walking is much more important than talking.
Speth isn’t alone in this sentiment, either. On one hand, BMW is ramping up its electro-mobility efforts by purchasing cobalt and lithium and preparing battery farms and systems for grid stabilization. On the other hand, the legacy auto maker only seems to be going through the motions because the European Union’s emissions regulations says they must. Imagine being told you have to take 20% less cheese on your pizza (which you love) and then singing the praises of tomato pies the next day. It’s a bit odd, I think.
Although the German auto maker is currently undergoing a changing of the guard in ousting CEO Harald Krüger due to poor performance in electrification efforts, a negative approach to EVs seems to be par for the course for the company’s leadership. Krüger may be leaving, but BMW AG board member and Head of Development Klaus Fröhlich is said to be one of two men in the running to take Krüger’s place. Even if he doesn’t get the top spot, he’s still part of the top leadership.
“I think the discussion about electro-mobility is a little bit irrational,” Fröhlich recently told Australian journalists at the 2018 Paris Motor Show. “The diesel development from BMW perspective is quite dramatic. We have, I think, more or less the best diesels. All tests show that we have the lowest emissions. We have a spiral in Europe where every politician sees only one solution – diesel bashing. From a CO2 and customer perspective, a modern diesel is a very good solution. Especially for heavy, high-performing cars,” he added. Here’s another recent gem from Fröhlich during a roundtable discussion:
“If we have a big offer, a big incentive, we could flood Europe and sell a million cars, but Europeans won’t buy these things. Customers in Europe do not buy EVs. We pressed these cars into the market, and they’re not wanted. We can deliver an electrified vehicle to each person, but they will not buy them.”
It appears both Fröhlich and Krüger have a case of “whataboutism” here in terms of diesel. You know who else has this same affliction? Volkswagen AG CEO Matthias Müller. While the auto giant is investing billions of dollars into electrified transport, Müller is still hoping for a ‘diesel renaissance’ of sorts for whatever reason. “Diesel will see a renaissance in the not-too-distant future because people who drove diesels will realize that it was a very comfortable drive concept. Once the knowledge that diesels are eco-friendly firms up in people’s minds, then for me there’s no reason not to buy one,” he told media groups in September.
Someone should tell him that internal combustion engines (ICE) are in the crosshairs of regulators next, with countries like Norway leading the way on ICE bans.
What about hydrogen?
Then, there’s the hydrogen hope. Elon Musk’s disdain for the inefficiencies of fuel cell vehicles is well known in the Tesla community and beyond, and it’s hard to disagree with his position unless you’re in the business to benefit from his mistakes. In contrast, one auto industry expert predicted that the market would see a shift to hydrogen in the next decade or so.
“The fuel cell is not ready to kick in yet. By 2030, we’ll see that coming, especially in passenger cars that run long distances, or trucks… Fuel cell is not out of reach,” argued Dr. Felix Gress, head of industry consultant firm Continental’s corporate communications and public affairs. “The battery technology, according to our estimations, has its limits,” he continued, adding that “it doesn’t generate enough range” for some people’s needs.
I’m not an expert in physics, merely a fan of the stuff that keeps me attached to the planet, but I have yet to see any layman’s argument in favor of fuel cells that’s more convincing than Musk’s (and others’) arguments against it. In the end, though, how can someone point to infrastructure issues with EVs as an argument for fuel cell cars while hydrogen networks are practically non-existent?
“The Monica” Award for EV Denialism
All of this “whataboutism” sounds like a matter of ego bruising to me. Tesla isn’t just ahead in the game when it comes to electric vehicles. The Elon Musk-led venture has become the main boss level at this point. With that in mind, competitors seem to be scrambling to find some sort of leverage to claim some sort of title for some sort of silly reason.
- Electric vehicle sales are ramping up everywhere they’re sold? What about these diesels we still have on the lot?
- Customers are buying more EVs as the battery tech gets better and the charging infrastructure gets larger? What about the infrastructure that’s still needed? What about the batteries that have yet to be made?
The current state of Tesla’s legacy auto competitors reminds me of an episode of the classic 90s sitcom Friends. One of the main characters, Monica, was a perfectionist who needed to be the best at everything, but she would give her friends these terrible and painful massages throughout the episode. After her boyfriend finally admitted the truth to her, he consoled her by saying if there was an award for the “best bad massages” she’d “get all the votes.”
They agreed the award would be called “The Monica.”
Do you think there are legacy auto makers in the running for “The Monica” of EV denialism? If so, which ones?