LA Auto Show Favors Crossover SUVs Over Electric

This year’s Los Angeles Auto Show is showcasing a strange blend of new electrified vehicle unveilings that are taking a backseat to crossover sport utility vehicles launches.

Automaker displays have been weighted toward crossover SUVs as market demand grows in an era of low gasoline prices and higher profit margins selling utility vehicles over plug-in electrified vehicles.

For Automotive News, General Motors’ Chevrolet brand illustrates the point. Those visiting the GM display can go see the all-electric Chevy Bolt, but they’ll first need to wade through several trucks and SUVs.

The 2017 Colorado ZR2 showcases that contrast. Chevrolet staged a rugged-off circuit on Tuesday to show the power of the off-road pickup.

The Bolt is seeing “a lot of built-up demand” ahead of its Dec. 1 advertising launch, said Chevrolet Marketing Director Steve Majoros. But he did tell Reuters that brands such as the Bolt “are important to our business, important to our image, but they kind of live on the fringes when it comes to volume.”

Automakers are expecting a lot more to come from plug-in electrified vehicles in years to come as more new models roll out and demand is expected to increase. This year’s LA Auto Show has been the platform for several new electric car launches and concept previews, including the Mitsubishi eX Concept.

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For now, some automakers see PEVs as more of a burden with the vehicles so far being money-losing projects tied to compliance with federal fuel efficiency rules and more rigid California zero emission vehicle mandates.

As gas prices stay low and crossover SUVs become more versatile in their offerings, demand has been shifting toward this segment. The National Automobile Dealers Association predicts 17.1 million new car and truck sales in 2017 that will favor light-truck sales, for an expected 60 percent of the market, up from 50 percent in 2013.

GMC has experimented with a Sierra 1500 with eAssist in California. It combines a V-8 engine with a 0.45 kWh lithium ion battery pack to improve fuel economy by as much as 13 percent. However, the battery which adds $1,125 to the price, is not large enough to qualify for clean air credits in California.

GMC built only 200 vehicles for 2016 for the California market and most have been sold. It is still weighing how many to make for next year, said Stuart Pierce, GMC senior marketing manager.

“We’re trying to gauge receptiveness right now,” said Pierce, who added that truck customers “maybe wouldn’t be ready to go so far” as a hybrid or fully-electric vehicle.

Audi and Jaguar say they’ll be introducing electric SUVs in 2018, and BMW will launch an electric Mini in 2019.

While Volkswagen has pledged to roll out 30 new PEV models by 2025, the gasoline-powered 2017 Atlas crossover has been its star at the L.A. Auto Show.

“We are expanding VW’s line-up to meet America’s demand for SUVs,” said Hinrich Woebcken, Volkswagen of America CEO.

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