Electric or electrified? They’re not the same thing

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Despite the media hype, gasoline engines aren’t all going away just yet

If your customers have been paying attention to automotive news in the mass media lately, chances are they’ve concluded that the days of the gasoline and diesel engine are already over. And that they’ll soon have no choice but to buy electric cars.

There is some justification for that belief. Widely-publicized announcements such as Volvo’s stated commitment to electrified vehicles from 2019 and the U.K.’s plans to limit sales of new gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles from 2040 have fostered that conclusion.

So has the plethora of both concept and production electric-vehicle introductions at the recent Frankfurt auto show, where automakers were uniformly promoting their devotion to electrification. And purposefully downplaying development of their own fossil-fueled models, a few high-performance variants excepted.

But, as is often the case, things aren’t quite that simple.

The first point to consider is the difference between “electric” and “electrified” — a key factor overlooked in many news reports and conveniently obfuscated by some of the newsmakers themselves.

As generally accepted within the business, the term “electric vehicle” or “EV” typically applies to a vehicle that is powered only by electricity, all the time. Usually it’s used in relation to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) although technically it can also encompass fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs).

An “electrified vehicle,” however, is one that makes some use of electric power to drive its wheels, some of the time, but also relies on some other power source for propulsion. That term encompasses all forms of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), from the mildest to the most exotic, including plug-in hybrids (PHEVs).

Therein lies at least part of the confusion. The Volvo announcement, for example indicated that all new models the company introduces from 2019 on will be “electrified.” And subsequent, similar announcements from Jaguar Land Rover and other automakers, with varying implementation dates, have followed the same pattern.

What that means is, when new models are introduced, they will be either hybrids or EVs. It does not mean that carryover non-hybrid models will be dropped, at least not immediately. Nor does it mean they’ll only be building pure EVs.

As generally accepted within the business, the term “electric vehicle” or “EV” typically applies to a vehicle that is powered only by electricity, all the time.

For its part, Volkswagen has pledged to include at least one electrified option (primarily HEV or PHEV) for every one of its vehicles, across all VW Group brands — Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, Porsche and VW itself — by 2030. And BMW and Mercedes-Benz are following similar paths, with timelines of their own.

There’s good reason it’s those brands that are front and foremost in promoting their electrification plans, for it’s Europe that is now at the forefront of the drive to combat climate change, both socially and politically.

In the wake of the diesel scandal and related indiscretions, which have resulted in widespread public outrage with the industry in general, the European automakers are desperate to get ahead of the curve, particularly in Germany.

There’s also the matter of ever-tightening fuel-consumption/CO2 regulations that virtually mandate widespread adoption of hybrids, if not full EVs, to satisfy them in the near and medium term. So the decision to pursue various degrees of electrification is not so much a choice as a necessity.

The fact that U.S. regulations for the period beyond 2021 are now under review may account for the less strident electrification push by American brands, at least for now. Still, they’re all moving in that direction and they’ll all get there eventually.

None of which is a bad thing for customers or dealers, for increased hybridization will have little effect on the vehicles’ overall design, operation or the way they are used.

A further move toward fully electric vehicles is another matter entirely and the fact that almost all the world’s automakers have promised to introduce at least some EV models soon, if they haven’t already done so, has much greater implications.

They’re doing so, of course, to satisfy regulations requiring them in mandated numbers in several jurisdictions, including California and Quebec. And to be prepared for the consequences of promised, longer-term limitations on production of fossil-fueled vehicles in France, the U.K., Norway and, most recently, China.

Adoption of those vehicles in the numbers proposed by their advocates, including the regulators themselves, will be a much greater challenge, for there is little indication that they’ll be enthusiastically adopted or accepted by mainstream consumers. The sacrifices they require from what most consumers now consider normal is still too great.

All of which means, the dealer’s job promises to become even more challenging. For, as always, it is the dealers that will be responsible for selling them!

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