The year 2019 was marked by a series of announcements on electric mobility. By positioning themselves in this market, manufacturers hope to achieve the same success as observed on thermal commercial vehicles. While their expensive tariff structures remain a major obstacle, their proliferation is a first step towards democratization.
“In the first half of 2018, a third of the cars registered in France were SUVs”, wrote L’Express a little over a year ago; “In 2008 SUVs represented 5% of the market, in 2018 it was 37%. Sales have increased sevenfold in ten years,” analyzed Mathieu Chassignet, engineer in charge of mobility at Ademe (Agence environnement et maîtrise énergie) Hauts-de-France, for Franceinfo, last October.
This shows the success of thermal SUVs in France. The figures are unanimous: the segment is gaining ground and seducing the general public over the years, to the detriment, however, of the planet.
But this environmental problem is tending to be resolved with the increasing development of electric vehicles. Although the extraction of rare metals and the recycling of batteries lead to new complications.
A BUSY YEAR
One question remains: has the rise of SUVs in the international automotive landscape affected the electrical sector? Looking into our 2019 rearview mirror, the answer is dangerously close to yes. Indeed, the last eleven months have seen an avalanche of announcements specifically dedicated to zero-emission SUVs.
The Tesla Model Y was one of the main attractions at the beginning of the year, preceded by the Rivian R1S. Expected by the community to be on a firm footing, the Ford Mustang Mach E was delayed until mid-November. Not to mention the launch of the Audi e-tron, accompanied by the e-tron Sportback, presented in November. Still on the German side, we can also mention the Mercedes EQC and the BMW iX3.
An extended list to which are added the French Peugeot e-2008 and DS3 Crossback E-Tense, but also the Volkswagen ID. Crozz (probably named ID.4), expected in spring 2020. China is represented by the Aiways U5, when Japan equips itself with the Mazda MX-30 and Lexus UX 300e. Let’s not forget the Volvo XC40 and the Jaguar I-Pace, which was awarded the “Car of The 2019” award in March.
What can we learn from this myriad of sports utility vehicles? Almost all manufacturers did not hesitate to set their sights on it, in the hope of capturing the very first contested market shares. But only if the market really exists. Because at the prices at which these cars are sold, only the wealthiest users can afford to put their hands to the pocket.
A REDUCED ECOLOGICAL BONUS
This is the paradox of this phenomenon: by its very nature, the multiplication of zero-emission SUVs tends to popularize electric cars. However, their generally high fare structure – between €40,000 and €90,000 – still represents a major obstacle for the majority of users, which is also due to their often too fair autonomy. The latter must then turn to more affordable city cars, but less technically interesting and less represented in the offers.
The redesign of the ecological bonus will also harm this segment as from 1 January 2020: a four-wheel drive oscillating between 45,000 and 60,000 euros will no longer benefit from the 6,000 euros of aid, but from a financial support of 3,000 euros. Vehicles exceeding this threshold will simply not receive any support. Only electric cars under €45,000 will receive the full amount. That is a very low share of SUVs.
Far be it from me to denigrate the proliferation of Sport Utility Vehicles. But at a time when electric vehicles are progressing sparingly, isn’t it worth focusing on segments that are more popular with the general public?
Peugeot and Renault have perfectly understood this with the e-208 and the new generation ZOE, whose price lists are around 30,000 euros, excluding the ecological bonus. The fact is that today, SUVs are the first step manufacturers have taken to popularize the electric car.
Surprisingly, manufacturers’ high-end positioning is not appropriate: starting at the top of the pyramid allows them to reap initial benefits, before expanding their catalogue with cheaper products thanks to lower manufacturing costs. Like Tesla’s strategy, whose Model X then opened the doors to a cheaper Model S, followed by the Model 3, the most affordable of the three.
While autonomy remains modest, future generations of models will be subject to increasing improvements in range. Another obstacle to overcome in order to make a purchase. Nevertheless, 2020 should once again focus on SUVs. Although the latter will be joined by a host of “competitors” in the form of sedans, city cars and sports cars. Exciting?