Apr 14, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Auto shows tackle steep learning curve on EVs

The electric vehicle test track at the New York auto show.
Consumers will be able to ride in half a dozen electric vehicles on an indoor test track at the New York Auto Show, which opens this weekend at the Javits Center. Photo: Joann Muller

Auto shows are back after a two-year pandemic hiatus, but these days they're focused less on gleaming new models and more on educating consumers about the electric future.

Why it matters: Consumers face a steep learning curve when it comes to electric vehicles, and so far, carmakers and their dealers have done a lousy job explaining important issues like battery efficiency, driving range and charging.

Driving the news: The New York International Auto Show, postponed four times since April 2020, finally opens to the public this weekend.

  • There are fewer splashy displays than in past years, with many brands skipping the show altogether.
  • But there's also a much bigger emphasis on vehicle electrification and charging, with several opportunities for consumers to ride in an EV on indoor test tracks.
  • For many people, it's likely to be their first hands-on experience with an electric vehicle.

What they're saying: "If you haven't been paying attention to cars for the past five years, there's a lot more to learn," IHS Markit analyst Stephanie Brinley tells Axios.

  • Besides new electric power trains, cars are also loaded with new assisted-driving technologies that will take some getting used to, she said.
  • A lot of people are curious about EVs, but to help speed adoption, companies need to ease their anxieties about going all-electric, said Steve Center, chief operating officer of Kia America. "This is where people get their questions answered."

Details: Almost the entire lower level of the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center is dedicated to electric vehicles and charging.

  • On the indoor test track, visitors can ride shotgun with professional drivers in new EVs from Chevrolet, Kia, Nissan, Volvo and EV startups INDI and VinFast. (The visitors aren't allowed to drive the cars themselves.)
  • Ford and Hyundai have incorporated short EV test tracks into their own displays.
  • There's even a micromobility track dedicated to trying out e-bikes and e-scooters.
  • A number of charging companies also have informational displays about charging.
  • Among them is Gravity Mobility, developer of a high-powered, urban fast-charger for cramped public garages. Its first 24-plug charging hub is opening this spring in midtown Manhattan.

The big picture: Carmakers still make most of their profit from gasoline-powered automobiles, but most of their investments are going toward battery-electric vehicles.

  • That makes auto shows particularly awkward, as companies try to keep the excitement going for their conventional cars while attempting to lure shoppers into the future.

What to watch: "There’s no question that 2035 or 2040 is going to be all-electric, without a doubt," says Bob Carter, executive vice president of sales for Toyota Motor North America. "The question is, how long is the transition period going to take? Is it a three-year transition or a 15-year transition?"

  • Toyota is betting on a longer transition, which is why it's still promoting a full lineup of hybrids and plug-in hybrids for people who aren't ready to take the all-electric plunge.

The bottom line: Auto shows have always been about peering into the future, never more so than now, on the cusp of an electric revolution.

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