Have you ever given thought to buying an electrified vehicle but realized what you wanted in terms of body style or features simply did not exist?
We can’t tell you how many times we’ve spoken with people who – not knowing how limited the green car market is – have said they’d buy an electrified vehicle but needed it to be a 4WD pickup truck or crossover, and we had to inform them they’re not available.
Today’s market of non-plug-in hybrids does have greater variety with three dozen models on offer, but there is room to improve the selection, and this is even more the case with plug-in electrified vehicles.
To date, there are gaping holes in the assortment of larger vehicles that Americans buy in far higher volume. This was touched on by the “father of the Chevy Volt,” Bob Lutz, who is now aligned with Oregon-based Via Motors which converts GM trucks to plug-in hybrids that can net upwards of 100 mpg, or go 40 miles on battery alone.
“We started at the wrong end. The whole automotive industry made the intellectual mistake of thinking EVs were all about maximum range, so we all started with small vehicles that are basically very economical anyway,” said Lutz of General Motors to the Seattle Times. “Yes, you do save fuel. You can use a smaller battery, but it makes less sense to take a 40 mpg vehicle and make it electric than it does to take a full-size pickup or SUV, which in town realistically gets 11 to 12 mpg.”
This said, in the event that automakers need help in not making more intellectual mistakes, we thought we’d do some brainstorming. Following are ideas for new vehicles that, while described only in broad brush, ought to be feasible. Call it the start of a fantasy wish list, and no doubt you could think of other ideas.
Potential Mass Market Electrified Vehicles
Our criteria was to imagine what would lend itself to widespread acceptance, spur competitors to play catch up, and broaden the market for electrified vehicles. So, no supercars, no high-five or six-figure boutique creations.
If the goal of electrification is to make selections people will buy, how can we help that along? Answer: By giving people what they want.
So, here are a few concepts. These are purely fictional. They do not exist. If they did, would you be interested?
Chevrolet Equinox PHEV – 37 miles EV range, 37 mpg on gas. $34,995
Before the 2011 Chevy Volt was in production, GM teased supporters that it could make more Voltec variants, and in 2010 it showed a Volt-based MPV5 crossover in China that was never produced.
What is GM waiting for? This is not clear when even automakers like Volkswagen have announced 30 new pure battery electric cars by 2025, and now that the second-generation 2016 Volt architecture is purpose-made to enable spinoffs.
The new 46-mpg Malibu Hybrid, built alongside the new Volt was the first spinoff, and given how hot the crossover segment is right now, how about some parts bin engineering to create an Eqiuinox with FWD and AWD capability?
The Malibu Hybrid’s 1.8-liter gas engine merged with 18.4-kWh battery might work. The standard 2.4-liter in the gas Equinox is rated 182 horsepower, 172-pounds-feet torque, and the Malibu Hybrid is also 182 horsepower with even better torque of 277 pounds-feet.
Rear wheel drive would take some engineering, potentially by adding a rear-wheel motor as other manufacturers already have in production.
If GM wants to do consumers a real favor, it might buck a trend among automakers to content it upwards so it costs so much more than conventional variants that people really have to scratch their heads to determine if it is worth it. Also appreciated would be if GM’s management price it right from the start instead of an MSRP so up there that it sells in such low volumes that it has to be discounted by factory incentives, low APR loans, cheap underwritten leases, and dealers having to cut price significantly just to move them.
That said, imagine a truly practical plug-in vehicle that comfortably seats five, has great winter traction, super efficiency, and not positioned as a rolling green halo but something that would make sense to more buyers.
This might be a good plan too, as it appears like it will be too late for a new PEV to qualify for the $7,500 federal tax credit, unless this is extended, because by 2018 it’s likely the Volt and Bolt will use those up. So, pencils must be sharpened.
Ford F-150 PHEV – 38 miles EV range, 31 mpg on gas – $39,995
FoMoCo has a history of excellent hybrid powertrain engineering and has cross-licensed patents with Toyota. It has also demonstrated a willingness to innovate with mil-spec aluminum bodies, downsized turbo EcoBoost engines, so why not take it to the next level with America’s best-selling vehicle?
This is a model line that can sell close to 700,000 units annually. It is both a utilitarian conveyance for regular consumers, and useful in light duty commercial applications.
So, how would a 2.7-liter EcoBoost put on the Atkinson cycle work in the F-150 merged with hybrid architecture and room carved out for batteries under the large body on frame vehicle?
Of course it would need a satisfactory tow rating, 4WD capability, but could it be successful if Ford spent as much effort on this as, say, a GT supercar that few people will buy, and which does nothing for the environment.
Although Tesla has said it wants to build a pure electric pickup, Ford could leverage its extraordinary market position to turn its customer base on to a known quantity that can serve like an EV with enough range for average daily driving to be gas-free.
Or, maybe Ford is already thinking along these lines? In April, a spy photog caught a glimpse of what appears to be an F-150 test mule with plug-in hybrid powertrain.
Reports have said Ford has talked of producing this, perhaps as soon as 2020, so what do you think?
Sound like a good idea? Any suggestions while they are working out the details?
Toyota RAV4 PHEV – 24 miles EV range, 32 mpg on gas – $37,270
This seems like a logical next step given Toyota’s RAV4 Hybrid priced only $700 more than comparable non hybrids is selling better than all hybrids except the Prius, and blowing plug-in hybrids and EVs out of the water.
Why? Because it hits a sweet spot. People want crossover SUVs and all wheel drive, so just like the Chevy Equinox formula for better living through plugging in, this could be Toyota’s game to lose.
How do they do it? Just add batteries. Where it may be an issue however is in packaging a 12-kWh battery without decimating storage space. This is a serious dilemma and Toyota’s engineers have not been willing to compromise cargo area like Honda did with its here-and-gone, California and New York only Accord Hybrid.
But when determined, Toyota has shown itself able to do it when it doubled the 4.4-kWh battery in the Prius Plug-in Hybrid to 8.8-kWh for the 2017 Prius Prime. This was accomplished by carving out space under the seat. In a RAV4 PHEV, creative thinking would also be required.
One wild idea could be what Porsche has experimented with by using empty cavity space inside of body panels and stuffing in battery assemblies where feasible, such as in the right and left rear quarter panels. A wiring loom and hardware would make separated battery modules act as one, and this could fix the packaging dilemma so everybody is happy.
This week the chief engineer of the Prius did say Toyota will be increasingly open to more PHEVs and maybe even EVs. It’s better known for resisting plug-ins and pushing fuel cells, and it has not recanted that idea, but it is now saying battery electrification will be needed to drive down its carbon footprint.
More comprehensive would be a clean-sheet engineering of purpose made plug-in platforms – probably the best solution – or Toyota can get started like the Europeans have and make existing variants work.
We’ll leave the details to the engineers in Japan, but do you think people would buy such a RAV4 PHEV if available? Like the Chevy, a super favor to buyers would be to not equip it exclusively with near-Lexus levels of accoutrements, and make a base LE version.
Toyota Prius Liftback AWD with Tow Package – 52 mpg – $28,200
Last, but with potential to be first to see the light of day could be the world’s best-selling green car, and highest mpg vehicle you can get without a plug – at least until the Hyundai Ioniq comes later this year, says Hyundai.
Toyota reserves some of its best technology for its home market where hybrids can outsell conventional internal combustion vehicles, and there is greater demand.
One of these is its optional E-Four all wheel drive system which costs around $1,500. This electric rear-wheel motor is not mechanically linked to the front Hybrid Synergy Drive system. In the U.S. Toyota equips only crossovers from Lexus and Toyota with this elegant solution.
We’ve seen green car fans allege conspiracy that Toyota wants to push them to the RAV4 Hybrid which gets 18 mpg less fuel economy but which is one of the E-Four AWD recipients.
Well, why not make a whole swath of the U.S. market that sees snow each winter happy by giving them a super fuel efficient Prius with AWD for traction?
Then, while Toyota is at it, how about if it brings over more of the good stuff it is holding back, namely, the European market trailer package, complete with dealer installed accessories, and tow rating of up to 1,600 pounds.
People already put receiver hitches on the Prius for things like bike and ski racks, but could you imagine a flyweight travel trailer with room for 2-4 people and warranty is not voided?
All of a sudden the great American road trip could be politically correct, environmentally friendly, and you could drive your Prius to go camping in the Adirondacks or Yosemite at maybe 43 mpg give or take on the highway with trailer in tow. Sound cool?
Why don’t they do these things when the capability is already in their hands?
The sky is the limit. These were just four ideas, but many others could work. Automakers are now being driven by regulations tor reduce the average fuel consumption across their product selections. They are thinking now about what will sell and be financially worthwhile also.
If you had any doubt, carmakers do want to make money, and are not willfully sabotaging themselves. If they could please the stockholders with fat profits from minivans that run on banana oil – and satisfy regulators too – they’d be investing heavily in bananas. If it got big enough, banana engineering could even become a new college major for parents to proudly send their sons and daughters away to after graduating high school.
Seriously, automakers must weigh a multitude of variables average armchair engineers never think of when they are just dreaming with no one to please but themselves. And, these global manufacturers with huge liability and overhead must follow tens of thousands of pages of regulations, work with suppliers, set up assembly lines, and that is only after thorough R&D and testing.
But that is their business, and the need for a greater variety of fuel-saving, low greenhouse gas cars is there, isn’t it? So, what kind of vehicle would you like to see added to the list?
What would you buy if only automakers would make it?