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Just Building It Is No Guarantee

by Tim Stevens

Editor-At-Large, CNET; Editor-In-Chief, Roadshow

It should come as no surprise that the global auto industry is not a “field of dreams” — building a great product and bringing it to market simply isn’t enough. This is the reality being faced by every original equipment manufacturer (OEM) in the process of either selling or preparing to sell mass-market electric vehicles (EVs). Established players are rushing in to follow the success of Tesla but finding that without the brand’s hyper-loyal fanbase and global good-will, the going is difficult.

Component availability has been a key issue for many. Brands like Jaguar, Audi, and Mercedes-Benz have all made big EV pushes over the past year, but each has suffered from supply headaches and production stoppages. The biggest challenge? Finding batteries. While demand for electrified cars is indeed increasing, the sourcing of raw materials for batteries is not keeping pace. LG Chem, a supplier to many manufacturers, has struggled to meet the need.

Others like General Motors Co. have made massive investments to stay immune from similar shortages, instead of beginning to see serious issues on the demand side. Chevrolet sold more than 23,000 Bolt EVs in 2017, its first full year of availability. Last year, despite many upgrades cementing its status as one of the best all-round, all-electric cars on the market, Bolt EV sales fell to 16,418. That led to financial incentives, rebates that make the car an even better value but, conversely, an even less profitable endeavor.

The reasons for this increasingly tepid response are myriad, but charger availability is a continued concern, especially among renters and others without access to private parking. This is perhaps where the adage starts to be true: build those charging networks and the EV buyers will come. Eventually. I’m a firm believer in the future of electric cars on American roads, but it may take a bit longer yet than many had hoped.

But there is still hope. Electrify America’s high-speed charging network is spreading quickly, already covering routes from coast to coast. And, with compelling mass-market cars like the Ford Mustang Mach-E developing huge amounts of buzz, awareness is increasing. Once consumers start to see the considerable advantages of EV ownership and not just the limitations, there’ll be no turning back.