The worldís automakers are asleep at the wheel.
customers clamor for more SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Ford Edge,
Chevrolet Traverse and Honda HR-V and as electric-drive technology
advances rapidly, itís virtually impossible to find an electric or
plug-in hybrid vehicle in the fast growing urban-utility vehicle
builds the worldís best-selling plug-in hybrid SUV. Mitsubishi,
for crying out loud.
knock on the Outlander, but it demonstrates a shocking bankruptcy of
imagination at Chevy, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Volkswagen.
Each of those brands literally builds millions more vehicles than
tiny Mitsubishi. But the little brand with the triple-diamond badge
was the only one that understood: At the intersection of growing
environmental awareness and soaring SUV sales lay a new class of
vehicles that deliver the height and room of an SUV and run on
batteries at least some of the time.
buying urban utilities donít care about off-road ability or towing
capacity. Half of them probably arenít sure if theyíve got
They just want
to sit up high, see whatís around them and have a big space behind
the rear seat.
number would love to plug in for their daily driving and slash how
often they have to buy gas, but the leading automakers have declined
to build plug-ins and EVs with the height and room that made SUVs a
conspiracy theories aside. This isnít the mythical case of car
companies and oil companies conspiring to put a lid on electric
In some ways,
itís worse: An epidemic outbreak of shortsightedness and timidity
thatís kept a ruthlessly capitalistic industry from capitalizing
on an open space in the market. Automakers all thought SUV shoppers
wanted to tow trailers and go offroad, when most couldnít care
Even as SUVs
commanded an ever-rising share of the new-vehicle market, the
leading automakers underestimated how much people will pay for
utilities, and misunderstood how they use the vehicles: A plug-in
hybrid of a boat-hauling Lincoln Navigator is the answer to a
question nobody asked; a plug-in Honda CR-V might have dominated a
new market. Instead, the Outlander and even newer new Kia Niro
plug-in went on sale this year and rule with a handful of sales.
Tesla sells the electric the Model X electric SUVs, but with prices
starting at $140,000, itís an outlier, too.
couple of years will see plug-in hybrid SUVs with better sales
prospects arriving, probably including versions of the Chevrolet
Equinox and the next-gen Ford Escape.
If done well,
theyíll likely sell well, and high-priced execs at automakers
around the world will scratch their heads and ask, "What took
us so long?"