Since the Toyota Prius gas-electric hybrid went on sale in 1997, major automakers have been marching toward electrification of their passenger lineups.
The pace seems to be quickening.
In July 2017, Volvo announced that every car in its lineup will have an electric powertrain by 2019. As one example, the 2018 XC60 SUV, named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year by a jury of 60 automotive journalists from the U.S. and Canada, is available as a T8 plug-in hybrid. Volvo also plans to launch five full electrics between 2019 and 2021.
“Every Volvo launched from 2019 will have an electric motor, placing electrification at the core of the company's business,” said Russell Datz, national media relations manager for Volvo Cars North America. The announcement represents one of the most significant moves by any carmaker to embrace electrification and highlights a new chapter in automotive history.
"This is about the customer," said Datz. “People increasingly demand electrified cars, and we want to respond to our customers' current and future needs. You can now pick and choose whichever electrified Volvo you wish."
Volvo's offerings of full electrics, plug-in hybrids and mild hybrids will span its model range.
Volkswagen is showcasing three electric concepts — I.D. Crozz, I.D., and I.D. Buzz. Production versions, each promising a range of more than 250 miles on a single charge, are slated to hit dealerships in 2020.
Honda’s Clarity series has been named 2018 Green Car of the Year by Green Car Journal. Honda is the first automaker to offer three alt-fuel vehicles from one platform: Clarity Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Clarity EV, and Clarity Plug-In. The 3-in-1 Clarity advances Honda toward its goal of 75 percent fleet electrification by model year 2030.
Fred Ligouri, communications manager for Chevrolet electric vehicles, shared General Motors' vision for its future: “GM has announced two initiatives: First is zero emissions, zero crashes, and zero congestion. The second is to launch 20 electric models by 2023. Although it won’t happen overnight, GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles.”
Ligouri also emphasized the Bolt EV and the Volt hybrid as central to Chevy’s green initiatives. “The range and affordability of our vehicles is at the top of the rankings.”
For its part, Ford Motor plans to build at least 15 electric vehicles for Ford and Lincoln by 2021.
Even Fiat Chrysler, which has been slow to join the fray, brought out its first hybrid, the acclaimed Chrysler Pacifica, in 2017. Its goal is to offer electric versions of half the vehicles in its fleet by 2025. FCA CEO Sergio Marchionne told Bloomberg News in an interview last month that a hybrid version of even its Jeep workhorse, the Wrangler, would bow for 2020.
Other manufacturers have committed to similar efforts, showing the traction electrics and their offshoots are gaining with buyers. According to Inside EVs, a website that chronicles the state of the electric car industry, U.S. sales of electrics neared 200,000 in 2017, up 27 percent from 2016. Worldwide, they topped 1 million units.
The benefits are obvious: increased fuel efficiency and reduced emissions. The fully electric Tesla Model S will travel 315 miles on a charge. The Chevy Bolt can go 238 miles, and the Nissan Leaf comes in at 150 miles.
Hybrids, because of their combo engines, post smaller numbers: The Chevy Volt hybrid gets 53 miles electric, and the Honda Clarity will give you 47 miles.
Still this will get carmakers closer to the EPA mandates of 54.5 m.p.g. for their fleets by 2025.
But these gains — and the technology used to achieve them — come at a price. Price tags on electrified vehicles range from $24,000 for a Smart Electric (an internal combustion Smart starts at $14,650) to $137,000 for the BMW i8. (The BMW 8-Series starts around $100,000.) Mainstream electrics start at $33,220 for a Volt (based on a Chevy Cruze that starts at $16,975) and $29,990 for a Leaf.