COVID-19 has automakers pumping the brakes on r&d spending, but most are still planning — at least for now — the launch of key electric vehicles in the coming months.
Matt Girgis, managing director of Volvo Car Canada, said the XC40 P8 Recharge crossover is still scheduled to arrive in Canada in the fourth quarter even though the carmaker’s plant in Ghent, Belgium, has been closed since March 17 and was set to open April 20.
“We are keeping a close eye on the rapidly evolving situation and will adapt our rollout plans as necessary,” Girgis told Automotive News Canada.
Volkswagen plans to launch its electric lineup this year, beginning with the ID and ID Crozz, the latter of which is destined for North America. At least two more models are due by 2022.
“As of right now, there are no delays anticipated with our EV rollout plans,” said Volkswagen Canada spokesman Thomas Tetzlaff.
Audi Canada spokesman Cort Nielsen confirmed that the e-tron Sportback will arrive in Canada as scheduled in the second half of 2020.
‘SHOULDN’T BE AN ISSUE’
More than 800,000 EVs will have been produced in North America and more than five million globally by 2024, according to projections by AutoForecast Solutions.
“The volume of these vehicles isn’t due out for years yet,” said Sam Fiorani, AutoForecast’s vice-president of global vehicle forecasting. “It shouldn’t be an issue unless the profits are driven down so much that it eats into the development costs of the EVs.”
Fiorani expects EV development to remain on schedule, unless the pandemic-induced economic downturn is profound or prolonged.
Although the United States recently rolled back auto emissions rules and fuel-economy targets, other markets worldwide are expected to maintain their more stringent standards, Fiorani said.
“To reach the emissions needed for most of Europe, for China, for [demand] growing in India and eventually North America, those EVs and electrified vehicles are necessary to get the emissions to legal limits,” he said.
IDLE PLANTS A THREAT
The biggest threat to EV rollout timelines is the shuttering of assembly plants.
Current estimates indicate that North American factories could remain closed two to three months.
“With so many whiteand blue-collar workers at home, delays on near-term projects like the upcoming EV programs will be almost day-for day as long as the plants are closed,” Fiorani said.
According to an April 13 story in sibling publication, Automotive News, engineers at some automakers continue to work on product launches albeit from their homes. Brian Schabel, a Ford Motor technical expert in propulsion sound and experience, said there is nothing he can’t do from home short of the final vehicle sign-off to ensure it meets all the legal noise requirements for EVs.
Ford of Canada declined to comment on whether the plant shutdowns would delay production of the Mustang Mach-E crossover, slated to arrive by the end of the year.
“The health and safety of our employees, dealers, customers and partners remains our top priority,” Ford said in a statement regarding the timing of reopening its plants.
On March 24, Volvo’s performance EV brand, Polestar, announced that it had begun production of the Polestar 2 in Luqiao, China, about two months after that country’s COVID-19 caseload hit its peak. Polestar 2 is slated for a summer release in Canada.
JP Canton, a spokesman for the Polestar brand in North America, said no delays for customers’ cars have been reported, and production is on track.
While General Motors has delayed the refresh of the Chevrolet Bolt EV from this year as a 2021 model to the 2022 model year, the company’s other EV plans remain on track, GM said.
“Near-term programs like our ... EV portfolio, including the Bolt [electric utility vehicle], GMC Hummer EV, Cadillac Lyriq, Cruise Origin and the Ultium battery program will see little or no impact,” the company said in a statement.
The Mercedes-Benz EQC was already delayed in Canada by more than a year to the first quarter of 2021 to allow the company to focus on the European launch. Whether COVID-19 will result in further delays is yet to be determined.
“We are closely monitoring developments and will make adjustments as needed, but at the moment it is still too early to communicate further details,” said Zakary Paget, spokesman for Mercedes-Benz Canada.
As well, the pandemic has delayed the Rivian R1T truck and R1S SUV from late 2020 into sometime in 2021.
The crisis will likely put a short-term damper on the momentum behind rising EV sales in Canada, said Cara Clairman, CEO of Plug’n Drive, a Toronto-based EV education and advocacy group. “That’s just the reality,” Clairman said. “Many [automakers] have already made their commitments to certain production and certain schedules, ... but their overall plans are not really going to change.”