Electric vehicle makers now aiming to win over mainstream buyers

They targeted early EV rollouts at customers who wanted a short-range economy car, then shifted to luxury buyers and pickup and delivery van drivers. Now, they want you.

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The 2024 Chevrolet SS EV — one of the new crop of electric vehicles that are being targeted for the average driver.

The 2024 Chevrolet SS EV — one of the new crop of electric vehicles that are being targeted for the average driver.

Paul Sancya / AP

In their first rollouts of electric vehicles, America’s automakers targeted people who value short-range economy cars. Then came EVs for luxury buyers and drivers of pickups and delivery vans.

Now, the companies are zeroing in at the heart of the U.S. auto market: people who want a compact sport-utility vehicle.

In their drive to have EVs dominate vehicle sales, automakers are promoting their new models as having the range, price and features to rival gas-powered competitors.

Some are so far proving to be popular. Ford’s $45,000-plus Mustang Mach E is sold out for the model year. On Monday, General Motors’ Chevrolet brand introduced an electric version of its Blazer, starting around $45,000 when it goes on sale next summer.

Also coming next year: an electric Chevy Equinox with a base price of about $30,000, a price that could boost its appeal with modest-income households.

There also are the Hyundai Ioniq 5 and Volkswagen’s ID.4 in the $40,000s and Nissan’s upcoming Ariya around $47,000, with a lower-priced version coming.

All start off considerably less expensive than Tesla’s Model Y small SUV, the current top EV seller, which has a starting price well into the $60,000s.

The new models — which can get about 300 miles per electric charge — are aimed at the largest segment of the U.S. market: modest-size sport-utility vehicles, which account for about 20% of new-vehicle sales.

Industry experts say entering the smaller SUV segment, with its reach into a broader demographic of buyers, is sure to boost electric vehicle sales.

“Going to the smaller utility segment gives you the opportunity to access the most customers,” said Stephanie Brinley, an analyst with S&P Global Mobility. “To make a transition . . . to electric, you have to be in more space. You have to be in more price points. You have to be in more sizes.”

Brinley said the small and midsize SUVs meet many people’s needs, something previous electric vehicles did not.

“If it’s a price you can reach but it’s a product that you can’t put your kids and your dog in, you’re not going to buy it,” she said.

Chevolet says the Blazer will get a minimum of 247 miles per charge. High-end versions could go up to 320 miles.

The Blazer will be available with Chevrolet’s SS performance package with a zero-to-60 miles-an-hour time of under four seconds. There will be a police version, too.

“Early on, the demographic composition of an EV buyer was certainly someone that perhaps had higher education, higher household income,” said Steve Majoros, Chevrolet’s marketing director. “That’s very indicative of early adopters. But, as we move up that curve, the intention and where we’re pricing this product is to certainly make it more available for more mainstream buyers.”

To attract buyers of modest means, EVs need to be priced even lower, in the $30,000-to-$35,000 range, said Mary Barra, GM’s chief executive officer. Electric vehicles, she said, also have to have the range and charging network, so they can be the sole vehicle some people own.

“Most electric vehicle owners today own multiple vehicles, so they have an internal combustion vehicle to jump into depending on their needs,” Barra said.

Automakers have been pushing to fully restore a $7,500 tax credit for people who buy EVs to jump-start sales. But the measure is stalled in Congress.

It’s especially important for GM, Tesla and Toyota, which have maxed out the number of credits they are allowed and no longer can offer them to buyers. Other automakers are approaching the limit, too.

Money for the credits, as well as funding for additional EV charging stations, was in President Joe Biden’s $1.8 trillion Build Back Better social and environment bill, which is all but dead because of the objections of U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

Even without the tax credit, Edmunds.com says electric vehicles now account for about 5% of U.S. new vehicle sales, with 46 models on sale.

Brinley foresees the market share rising to 8% next year, 15% by 2025 and 37% by 2030.

“It seems like the number of choices are growing exponentially for electric vehicles as we move forward,” said Erich Merkle, Ford’s top U.S. sales analyst.

Demand for battery-powered vehicles and gas-electric hybrids has grown as gasoline prices skyrocketed this year. Dealers report that every vehicle delivered is typically already sold or gone soon after it arrives.

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