Rhetoric is landing like hard jabs in the electric vehicle arena. Tesla is the global leader when it comes to EV sales, but General Motors is unwavering in its claim it will top Elon Musk’s company by 2025. And feisty Ford came out of nowhere recently to garner buzz as it works to defeat both.
The CEOs wearing the gloves are equally intriguing. GM CEO Mary Barra is the stoic leader who chooses her words carefully and only makes promises she is confident she can keep. At the other end of the spectrum is Tesla CEO Musk, who plucks ideas from his bulging brain and throws them against the Twitter wall to see what sticks. His promises come with an asterisk: Results could be spectacular but are likely to be delayed or never happen. Somewhere in the middle is Ford CEO Jim Farley, who has come out swinging a big electric stick and could hit one down the middle and beat them both. Ford wants to eventually overtake Tesla but for now is happy to solidify its hold on second place.
Who said the ramp up to EVs is boring? Let’s look at some of the numbers behind the rhetoric.
In 2021 Tesla delivered more than 936,000 vehicles globally from plants in California and Shanghai. New facilities in Texas and Berlin join them this year, and Musk says 2022 deliveries will increase by 50 percent, bringing the figure to 1.4 million. Musk is also scouting locations for more plants.
Barra says conservative estimates have GM making 2 million EVs in North America and China by 2025. The numbers are miniscule now: less than 25,000 Bolts sold in the U.S. in 2021 when a recall forced a production stop for much of the year. But by the end of 2023, GM will sell more than 400,000 EVs in North America alone, she promises. For GM to topple Tesla from the top spot is a big dig and may appear impossible—Tesla will not slow down while GM ramps up. But GM has a monster excavator with more than a century’s worth of automaking experience and the might to execute its grandiose plans. Size matters: Tesla makes more than $10,000 a vehicle now because of its scale.
Meanwhile, Ford blew the doors off the industry with the Ford F-150 Lightning, which created huge buzz and years’ worth of reservations. It forced Tesla to delay the Cybertruck and return to the drawing board to add quad motors and more tech while keeping it affordable. Ford says it will produce 600,000 EVs per year by 2024 and wants such vehicles to account for half its global sales by the end of the decade.
Everyone is a big spender. Tesla, the trillion-dollar automaker, is investing in plants because, despite its small lineup, three-quarters of U.S. EV sales are Teslas, mostly the Model 3 and Model Y. The company launched no new models in 2021, and Musk says nothing will launch this year, either. The Cybertruck might come in 2023, but an affordable $25,000 EV is no longer in the works, and no one even talks about the Roadster these days. Musk is focused on making more of his existing models, the rollout of the beleaguered full self-driving technology, and building a robot to help move parts around plants. Oh, and packing for Mars.
Ford has pledged to spend $30 billion on EVs through 2025, and it will allocate even more during the next decade to continue converting plants to build them. There are plans for a second electric truck plant and three battery cell plants. Ford has already tripled output of the electric Mustang Mach-E and is doubling production of the F-150 Lightning.
GM will spend $35 billion by mid-decade with 30 new EVs globally, 20 of them by next year, as well as five dedicated plants and four battery cell plants. The lineup is ambitious, from the GMC Hummer and Sierra and Chevrolet Silverado pickups to performance cars and the ultra-luxe Cadillac Celestiq. In between is a whack of SUVs from Bolt size up, to wear Cadillac, Buick, Chevy, and GMC badges.
It’s a full plate. Would GM do things differently if it were to start over today? If it had faced no pressure to play massive catchup and could follow the Tesla playbook of only a few high-volume models? No, Barra says. GM’s EVs will reflect the wide spectrum of what customers buy now. And many of them will be high-volume, she says.
Consumers bought nearly 1.5 million electrified vehicles in the U.S. last year. Of those sales, nearly a half-million buyers bought a pure EV—up a whopping 89 percent from 2020. Pure EVs still only account for about 3 percent market share, but the trajectory could be steep as more people get behind the wheel and fall in love with the performance and the convenience of charging at home or work. Another dozen or so new models are coming this year to tempt them, augmenting the roughly 25 EV nameplates on the market today.
Most pundits say Tesla will see its share erode as every automaker pursues an all-electric future, and there are cool new vehicles from every brand. At least one analyst argues the opposite: that Tesla will be unstoppable and grow from 3.5 percent market share of all U.S. sales (GM has 14 percent; Ford has 12.5 percent) to 18 percent by 2030.
Of course, market watchers don’t yet know who will ultimately win this cage fight for sales dominance. The great news for buyers: They will have more choice and competitive pricing than ever.
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