Will the electric cars bring back sedans and hatchbacks?
An interesting conclusion to the future of EVs is that it might not be sustainable on stilts
Something rather bizarre is that many manufacturer's first mass-production EV yet is an SUV; Mercedes, Audi, and Jaguar to name a few. Most manufacturers have struggled to even enter the EV world wholeheartedly; to this day Toyota does not sell a single mass-market EV, General Motors made the effective but uninspired Bolt and then never really cared much for it, and Hyundai seems to be heading for various sources of power for their vehicles despite their EV offerings. VW on the other hand, for a long time an EV-dissenter, is just starting to get their shit together.
To this day, the best proposition for an EV is Tesla; whose model range consists of two mid size vehicles and two family size vehicles; two sedans and two SUVs. Tesla's current strength in the market is probably held because their vehicles have offered the best range, and a very compelling infrastructure for charging. Everything else about Teslas is sort of hit and miss; I do question how many people bought a Model 3 because it had "fart mode."
As other manufacturers catch up, a chilling fact is starting to materialize; something Toyota was probably fast to realize thanks to their experience with battery-electric hybrids: batteries are very fucking expensive, and consumers are very fucking unrealistic.
These two facts contradict when it comes to pricing EV's; consumers want a long range, and batteries are expensive. Inevitably, EVs have to make a balance between price and range like gasoline and Diesel vehicles almost never had to in the past. This strange notion is new to many consumers, and the infrastructure behind EVs still leaves many questions to even the most rational of consumers unanswered.
So, why would the future of EV's take the SUV's now more familiar shape?
I find it bizarre, automakers usually shift to SUVs because the few differences between making a regular sedan or hatchback rather than an SUV are insignificant to them, but can justify a huge price hike for consumers. The fascinating thing is that this relationship should change for EVs, making a car as opposed to an SUV will come as an insignificant cost to manufacturers, but a large one to range-concious consumers.
This is kind of inevitable; the things that cost the most energy to keep a vehicle moving are its friction losses; drivetrain and aerodynamic losses that serve as a continuous drain on the battery. The heavier, less aerodynamic and larger your car is, the more losses of the sort will occur.
As a consequence, it seems logical that BEV and PHEV SUV's have performed worst in the WLTP energy consumption tests they've been subjected to, and not by an insignificant margin. This despite the gaps in technology between manufacturers. No matter how bright your engineers are, SUV's are simply going to consume more energy to move, particularly at higher speeds.
So, it seems evident that the same economic pressures that made SUV's more popular for manufacturers will force them back into lighter, smaller vehicles.
This obviously depends on how technology changes; if you can introduce a very fast charging system, and a high energy density battery, you can get away with selling huge, stupid vehicles without consumers realizing the energetic costs of their brawny SUVs. On the other hand, regulators might just clamp down on the consumption of rare-earth metals for batteries, and favor PHEV's that might not bring the best environmental results in the short run, but also avoid using up scarce materials that are very difficult to recycle and require very careful handling for disposal.
In cities, the benefit of lower emissions in EVs can be of little significance when contrasting the strain on electricity networks, the space they take up, and the pollution from tire wear. So, perhaps regulators might just stop subsiding or even might begin taxing heavy EVs with large battery packs to offset their high energy consumption.
To community planners, the question might not even be "Which car is least worse car" but "How do I rid my community of the toxic commuter culture making their lives so expensive, pollutant, and wasteful?"
As it stands now, it seems like automakers still think EV's will take a long time to be adopted, and they probably don't fear the consequences of consumer's preference, regulator's annoyance, and the sort-of inevitable confrontation that they'll eventually face with them. It can also be said that an electric SUV might be closer price-wise to a regular SUV given manufacturers might be more willing to cut on a profitable sale as opposed to making an unprofitable one to begin with.
But, if things change, and EVs are adopted more quickly, the confrontation will come before innovation can solve the conflicting demands of consumers, and then, the unstoppable force of consumer preference will meet the immovable object of market reality.