CES 2016: Automakers woo tech enthusiasts to revive electric car sales

Beyond technology enthusiasts represented by CES attendees, demand for hybrid and electric vehicles is slumping thanks to cheap gasoline

By: Reuters | Las Vegas | Updated: January 4, 2016 5:19 pm
CES 2016, automobiles, self driving vehicles, electric cars, GM, Volkswagen, faraday future, Tesla Motors, tech news, technology GM Chief Executive Mary Barra is expected to show a production version of the Chevrolet Bolt electric car (Source: Chevrolet)

Volkswagen AG and General Motors Co are expected to disclose new details of their electric vehicle strategies at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, highlighting efforts to stoke consumer enthusiasm for battery-powered cars to match growing regulatory demands to build them.

Herbert Diess, head of the Volkswagen brand, is expected to reveal at CES on Tuesday a prototype electric vehicle offering “affordable long-distance electric mobility,” the company said. VW watchers expect it will be a variant of a microbus – linking the German automaker’s plans to launch 20 battery-powered or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2020 to a beloved model from the past.

VW’s redoubled bet on electrification is part of an effort to repair damage done by revelations that it sold millions of diesel vehicles worldwide that used software to cheat emissions tests and run dirty on the road.

GM Chief Executive Mary Barra, scheduled to give a CES address on Wednesday afternoon, is expected to promote GM’s vehicle electrification efforts. Barra is expected to show a production version of the Chevrolet Bolt electric car, which GM has said will offer a 200-mile (320-km) range and sell alongside a new Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid starting next year.

However, beyond technology enthusiasts represented by CES attendees, demand for hybrid and electric vehicles is slumping thanks to cheap gasoline.

U.S. sales of hybrid and all plug-in electric vehicles through the first 11 months of 2015 totaled 452,338, down 16 percent from the same period in 2014, according to data reported by the Electric Drive Transportation Association, a trade group. Plug-in vehicles accounted for less than 1 percent of the market during the first 11 months of 2015.

Still, regulators around the world are pushing manufacturers to sell more electric cars to curb greenhouse emissions. California and several other U.S. states want automakers to hit certain electric vehicle sales quotas or risk restrictions on more profitable trucks and sport utility vehicles. Cities in Europe and Asia are considering limiting petroleum-powered vehicle access.

China’s interest in electric cars is encouraging Chinese investor groups to back challengers to global automakers and Silicon Valley’s Tesla Motors Inc. One of them, Faraday Future, said it will reveal its electric luxury car at CES on Monday evening. Faraday says it has plans to invest $1 billion in a factory near Las Vegas.