Making EVs Mainstream Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

Except Tesla, I guess

Back at the turn of the century, Honda introduced the Insight to the United States. The first mass-produced hybrid to be sold here, it beat the Toyota Prius to the US market. It even had a cute little ad that essentially told those concerned about the environment that if they really cared about the Earth, hybrids were the way to go.

Some preparing to charge a Honda e launch electric vehicle.

Honda

Many environmentalists did just that. Unfortunately for Honda, far more picked the Prius hybrid over the Insight as their efficient vehicle of choice. If you cornered most people back in the early 2000s and asked them, "which automakers do you think will be one of the first to dominate electric vehicles in the future?" Chances are, based just on their push for vehicles with batteries, the answer would have probably been Honda and Toyota. 

That didn't happen. Sort of the opposite happened. 

False Starts

On paper, the amount of battery knowledge that Honda and Toyota acquired from their hybrid sales would have made them perfect candidates to be early movers in the electric vehicle world. 

Only recently has Toyota introduced a mass-produced EV in the United States that it shares with Subaru. The awkwardly named bZ4X. Yes, there was the Rav4 EV introduced way back in 1997 and then refreshed in 2012, but Toyota sold fewer than 5,000 of those in the US. 

Honda, for its part, introduced the Clarity lineup that included an EV but pulled that from the US market in 2021. It won't bring the stylish Honda-E to US shores and is now partnering with GM to use that company's Ultium platform to get inexpensive EVs to the US in 2027. Nearly 15 years after the Tesla Model S was introduced. 

Not a Sprint

What works in favor of both those automakers and others that have been slow to market with a mass-produced EV are a few things. In the United States, EV sales are still sitting in the single digits in the market. That means people are still trying to figure out if an electric vehicle is right for them. 

The current spike in gas prices will likely push more into EVs, but we have a ways to go before 50% of new car sales are electric. 

The latest batch of EVs are essentially good cars that happen to be electric. That wasn't always true, and for many, the efficiency trade-offs that came with owning an electric car just weren't worth the hassle. Automakers that waited can use what others learned to skip that portion of their transition to electric vehicles entirely. 

Plus, while most charging is done at home, there are those without driveways and garages that need a robust charging infrastructure, and outside of Tesla, we're not there just yet. 

... while you can't get a great Honda or Toyota EV right now, it's important to remember that this entire electrification transition is a marathon, not a sprint.

In other words, waiting means having the opportunity to see what others have done and being able to not commit the same mistakes. If we learned anything from the Honda Insight vs. Toyota Prius story, being first to market doesn't mean that you'll be the winner in the long term. 

Tesla = EVs

But there's the Tesla problem. Well, not a problem for Tesla. The automaker delivered a record number of vehicles in the past quarter. That's after delivering a record number of vehicles in the previous quarter and so on over the past few years. The rest of the industry would be thrilled to produce over 300,000 electric vehicles in a single quarter. 

It's more than sheer numbers, though. It's the byproduct of selling the number one EV in the world. The word Tesla is synonymous with electric vehicles. Other automakers should be concerned about how precariously close the word Tesla is to becoming shorthand for EV. It's nearly the Kleenex of electric vehicles. 

That's what happens when a company not only gets out there first but also thrives because it worked relatively quickly to get a lineup of EVs on the road and solved one of the biggest issues with early electric cars, charging. The Tesla Supercharger network is the company's killer app. Other automakers are catching up in terms of range, but none can boast the charging network that Tesla has spent years expanding across the globe. 

Tesla hasn't won the EV race, but it's far ahead of other participants. 

The Tesla Model S

Tesla

The EV Marathon

Regardless of your thoughts about Tesla or its Twitter enthusiast (and now investor) CEO, the company set the standard and the reason there are now really great electric vehicles from other automakers. Those that have been late to the game or have just barely dipped their toes into the market haven't lost. 

If GM and Honda can bring a low-cost EV to the market in 2027, that'll be a huge win for both companies. Current EVs are still far too expensive for many. If we want to transition off fossil fuels for our transportation, we need to make sure that everyone can join the electric fun. 

Toyota has done a great job reintroducing enthusiast vehicles into the market with the Supra and recently updated GR86. Taking those learnings and putting them into an EV would be an outstanding move for the company. Plus, there's the potential that we'll get the Compact Cruiser in the near future. 

Things are happening at these companies. Is it as quick as we had anticipated? No. But they're happening, and while you can't get a great Honda or Toyota EV right now, it's important to remember that this entire electrification transition is a marathon, not a sprint. 

Want to know more about EVs? We have a whole section dedicated to electric vehicles!

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