The auto industry may now be at an inflection point on electrification, as mass-market auto makers begin rolling out electric vehicles with improved battery range and the national charging infrastructure rapidly expands.
Dustin Krause, Volkswagen of America's director of e-mobility in North America and a former Tesla executive, said the technology concerns that have kept most consumers from switching to battery-electric vehicles—range anxiety in particular—will begin to fall away as those new EVs start to look and feel more mainstream.
Krause spoke in a Zoom presentation during the CAR Management Briefing Seminars.
Volkswagen's upcoming ID4 compact crossover, a Tiguan-sized battery-electric vehicle that U.S. dealers will begin selling by the end of the year, is an example of a BEV that will look and feel familiar, with a much-improved driving experience, Krause said.
"It's all around a good car, and it's right in the heart of where the (Toyota) RAV4 and the (Honda) CR-V are right now," Krause said. "There are lots of people waiting on the fence right now with EVs, and Volkswagen is going to come in right in the middle of the market with a vehicle that's not quite as out there as a Tesla, and not as expensive, and with a trusted brand."
Overcoming range anxiety among shoppers will require reasoning with them about their average commutes while also showing them the growing nationwide network of fast charging stations, Krause said.
He recalled that when he first started driving EVs in 2008, he would sometimes stay overnight at a KOA campground during long trips, because that was where he could recharge his car most easily.
Now, he said, "you can drive from Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles and have fast charging available the whole trip."
Jorg Trampler, head of car powertrain technology at supplier ZF Friedrichshafen's Engineering Center North America in Northville, Mich., said auto maker electrification strategies vary widely, which requires a large supplier such as ZF to offer a wide range of solutions. But he predicted that other mechanical gains are in the cards for battery-electric powertrains.
Those, along with improved battery technology, would greatly improve range in coming years. ZF has introduced a two-speed e-drive that makes EVs more efficient and increases driving range.
ZF will no longer make automatic transmissions that aren't at least hybrid-ready, Trampler said.
"In the 19th century, people looked at horseless carriages and wondered about the lack of infrastructure, too," Trampler said. "There were not enough fueling stations and there were not enough good roads.
"But the speed of travel on the road to electrification has improved significantly," he added. "Are we there yet? No. The road to electrification is an endurance race, requiring investment and expertise."