Automakers Adjust EV Strategies to Consumer Response

Sales figures are still on an upward rise year-over-year, but growth has slowed, causing some manufacturers to rethink their approach.

EV-production-sales
Kia recently began production of its first all-electric three-row SUV, the EV9, at its manufacturing plant in Georgia.

Electric vehicle sales are steadily growing worldwide, but perhaps not at the rate some automakers anticipated. Some are adjusting their production strategies to increase profitability, while others are forging ahead by introducing new EV models.

IDTechEx recently reported a 20% dip in global EV sales in the first quarter of 2024 compared to the last quarter of 2023 -- but a 30% growth when compared with the same quarter last year.

The report credited the sales dip to the consistent seasonal trend of lower sales in the first quarter compared to the fourth quarter. Despite this, EV sales have shown a steady upward trajectory year-on-year. Furthermore, regional sales comparisons indicate a rise in EV sales across all major markets, including China, Europe and the U.S.

Concerns about a downturn in the EV market often arise from overestimations and the subsequent need for manufacturers to adjust production strategies. Challenges remain, particularly the higher cost of EVs compared to their combustion engine counterparts and the limited availability of affordable options below the $27,000 mark in Western markets. Additionally, the development and maintenance of charging infrastructure are critical to consumer adoption.

Looking forward, the demand for EVs is expected to remain strong, driven by impending bans on combustion engines and the ongoing need for cleaner transportation options. The IDTechEx report forecasts global electric car sales to exceed 50 million by 2035, up from more than 18 million in 2024.

GM Adjusts EV Production Amid Demand Slowdown

General Motors, for instance, is revising its EV production targets for 2024, reducing its goal from an initial range of 200,000 to 300,000 units to 200,000 to 250,000 units, as reported by the Detroit Free Press.

GM CFO Paul Jacobson announced the adjustment during the Deutsche Bank Global Automotive Industry Conference, emphasizing the company still aims to achieve variable profit in the EV segment by the end of the year. "We think we can still do that in, probably Q4 more than the second half," Jacobson said.

Jacobson said the adjustment is "100% demand-driven," despite overcoming previous supply-side challenges such as battery module issues. He noted GM sold approximately 9,500 EVs in May. The revised production targets are part of a cautious approach to avoid excess inventory and deep discounting, aligning production with market demand.

Additionally, GM is investing $850 million in its self-driving car subsidiary, Cruise, to support its relaunch.

Jacobson also reported GM ended the first quarter with a healthy 63 days of inventory, slightly reduced to 59 days by the end of May. The automaker anticipates a robust second quarter, projecting performance that will surpass the first quarter's adjusted pre-tax income of nearly $4 billion.

Ford Halts Dealer EV Investments

Ford announced a temporary suspension of its dealer investment requirements for EV sales infrastructure, as it recalibrates its strategy. The decision was influenced by insights gathered during Ford’s Dealer Engagement Tour, where executives met with more than 1,000 dealers across 11 meetings nationwide.

"We’re now in the process of reviewing all that collaborative engagement and turning it into immediate, mid-term and long-term changes where it makes sense for our customers, our dealers and Ford," spokesperson Marty Gunsberg said in a statement. "We will have more specific details to share in a few weeks."

Initially, Ford had set a June 30 deadline for dealers to install Level 2 EV charging stations as part of its Model e certification program, which allows them to sell EVs. However, the requirements were relaxed last November, reducing the number of mandatory Level 2 chargers and removing a future obligation for Level 3 fast chargers by 2026.

Ford also delayed the launch of a new three-row all-electric SUV by two years and reduced training requirements for dealership employees.

Nissan Revises EV Strategy

Nissan Motor Co. is also reshaping its approach to EVs in the U.S., prioritizing crossover SUVs over sedans in response to consumer preferences, as first reported by Automotive News. The Japanese automaker announced the adjustment of its EV lineup to better align with current market demands, introducing five new models while pausing the development of two battery-powered sedans.

The announcement is part of Nissan's broader effort to adapt to a softer-than-expected demand for EVs. "We are adjusting the timeline for the introduction of these five new models to ensure we bring the vehicles to the market at the right time," a company spokesperson explained.

The revised lineup includes several battery-powered crossover SUVs, which are expected to roll out more swiftly than the planned sedans. Nissan's manufacturing facility in Canton, MS, will play a crucial role in supporting the production of these next-generation vehicles.

The announcement is a modification of Nissan's March plans, which aimed to accelerate the EV transition with seven new models by 2026 and establish a robust EV manufacturing hub in the U.S. However, the current shift in strategy indicates a more cautious approach in a market that has shown a lukewarm reception to electric vehicles compared to hybrids and traditional gas-powered models.

Tesla Supercharger Access Delayed for Some Brands

Access to Tesla's Supercharger network for several brands adopting the North American Charging Standard (NACS) has been delayed due to recent layoffs at Tesla.

General Motors, Polestar and Volvo were poised to gain access to Tesla's extensive Supercharger network in North America, which includes 15,000 stalls. This expansion was expected to significantly enhance charging availability for EV drivers across the U.S. and Canada. However, Tesla's decision to lay off numerous Supercharger team members, including Senior Director of Charging Infrastructure Rebecca Tinucci, impacted this timeline.

A Polestar representative stated their timeline "had been adjusted to later this summer." Similarly, General Motors has delayed the anticipated purchase of its NACS adapter, which is essential for their EVs to connect to Tesla Superchargers.

Ford, GM Clash on Hybrid Vehicle Future

Ford and GM executives presented divergent strategies for hybrid vehicles at a recent industry conference, as reported by Reuters.

Ford CEO Jim Farley argued hybrids should not be seen merely as a transitional technology on the path to full electrification. "We should stop talking about it as transitional technology," Farley said. "Many of our hybrids in the U.S. are now more profitable than their non-hybrid equivalent."

Farley emphasized the profitability and relevance of hybrid vehicles, noting that extended-range hybrids are vital for the industry's future. He mentioned Ford's plans to quadruple hybrid sales over the next several years and acknowledged the company’s recent adjustments to its EV investment strategy. This includes pulling back on some EV investments and delaying production in Canada and the U.S.

Conversely, GM CEO Mary Barra views hybrids as a temporary solution, with the ultimate goal being a fully electric fleet. "It’s not the end game because it’s not zero emission," Barra said. She added GM plans to introduce plug-in hybrids by 2027 to meet regulatory requirements but is primarily focused on advancing EV technology.

Ford is balancing its investments between hybrid and electric technologies, aiming for profitability in the hybrid segment while refining its EV strategy. Farley also expressed a belief that EVs should not rely on subsidies and that automakers must quickly achieve profitable production of battery-powered models.

In contrast, GM is doubling down on its commitment to EVs, seeking to maintain competitiveness against Chinese automakers, who Barra acknowledges as formidable rivals. "I take the Chinese competitors, especially the top ones, very seriously. We've got to continue to take cost out so we can compete successfully," Barra said.

Kia EV9 Debuts in Georgia as U.S. EV Sales Surge

Kia, on the other hand, announced it has begun production of its first all-electric three-row SUV, the EV9, at its assembly plant in West Point, GA.

The 2025 Kia EV9 has already garnered multiple accolades, including the prestigious "Best of the Best" Red Dot award in April 2024 for the Cars and Motorcycle category, and several "Best in Class" titles from the Texas Auto Writers Association, including Performance SUV, mid-size CUV, and electric vehicle.

The Kia EV9 contributed heavily to the automaker’s 151% increase in EV sales in the U.S., said Eric Watson, vice president of sales operations at Kia America.

“Through Plan S, Kia is poised to be a leader in the e-mobility sector for years to come," said SeungKyu (Sean) Yoon, president and CEO of Kia North America and Kia America. "EV9 will be in excellent hands with the team members at Kia Georgia, and their track record for assembling award-winning, world-renowned products speaks for itself.”

Rivian Announces Illinois Plant Expansion

Rivian decided to halt work on its second manufacturing facility in Georgia, but announced it will use $827 million in incentives from Illinois to bolster production capacity at its existing plant in Normal.

Originally intending to begin producing its forthcoming R2 vehicles in Georgia, Rivian said it will save $2.25 billion on capital expenditures, product development investment and supplier sourcing opportunities by producing it in Illinois to start. It will also be to launch the R2 earlier.

The incentives package, spanning 30 years, predominantly comprises tax benefits under the Reimagining Energy and Vehicles in Illinois program, along with an additional $75 million in capital funding under a separate state initiative.

According to a statement from the governor’s office, Rivian intends to invest $1.5 billion to elevate its plant's capacity in Normal to 215,000 units annually from the current 150,000. This expansion project is projected to generate over 550 jobs within the next five years, a welcome development for the local economy.

Rivian also announced the second generation of its flagship vehicles, the R1S SUV and R1T pickup, featuring substantial improvements in power, performance and technology.

The second-generation R1 platform offers new tri- and quad-motor configurations, and new battery packs offering up to an estimated 420 miles of range.

Significant advancements in the new R1 vehicles include a redesigned electrical architecture, which reduces the number of electronic control units (ECUs) from 17 to seven, and an entirely new autonomy system called the Rivian Autonomy Platform. This system enhances vehicle capabilities with 11 cameras, five radars and AI prediction technology, offering features like high-resolution camera Blind Spot Monitoring and Highway Assist as standard.

Starting at $75,900 for the R1S and $69,900 for the R1T, the vehicles are now available for order on Rivian's website.

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