In the face of climate change, decarbonization commitments from public and private entities, and more stringent emissions and fuel economy standards, the electrification of passenger vehicles is a growing focus throughout the United States’ automotive industry. Despite various pressures to deploy lower-emission hybrid-electric (HEV), battery-electric (BEV), and fuel-cell electric (FCEV) vehicles as soon as possible, some challenges remain. Consumer preferences may slow the acceptance and turnover rates of electric vehicles (EVs) in the United States. Until consumers view them as a better option with minimal compromise, BEV may struggle to gain mass-market acceptance. But, with the introduction of BEV pickup trucks, the industry is about to take some significant steps in testing the market.
Figure 1 shows that in 1975 approximately 80 percent of vehicles produced in the U.S. were classified as cars, while the remaining 20 percent were classified as trucks. The popularity of trucks has grown considerably between 1975 and 2020; trucks now represent approximately 60 percent of the vehicles produced in the United States.
Figure 1: U.S. Production Share – EPA Vehicle Types
Source: The 2021 EPA Automotive Trends Report
Vehicle fuel economy and CO2 emissions are strongly influenced by vehicle design parameters, particularly weight, power, and size. All other things being equal, bigger vehicles typically have lower fuel economy and higher emissions. Because of this, trucks have historically received less stringent fuel efficiency requirements than smaller passenger cars.
Shifts in U.S. consumer vehicle preference have already displayed some real-world impacts on fleet emissions, as the majority of U.S. production volumes have shifted away from sedans/wagons towards a combination of heavier truck SUVs, car SUVs, and pickups.1 Throughout the shifts, and since 1975, the automotive industry has achieved consistent fleet-wide improvements in fuel economy and CO2 emissions. Alas, the changes in consumer preferences have essentially offset the U.S. fleet-wide benefits that gradual improvements in technology would have realized if the distribution of U.S. vehicles had remained the same or similar. Figure 2 can help visualize the impact of consumers’ shift towards trucks. Around 1975, the real-world fuel economy of the entire U.S. vehicle fleet was closely aligned with the fuel economy of passenger cars. Over time, as trucks began to increase in market and production shares, the real-world fuel economy of the entire U.S.’ vehicle fleet has slowly started to converge on the truck fuel economy trend-line.
Figure 2: Comparison of Car and Truck Real-World Fuel Economy, 1975-2021
Source: The 2021 EPA Automotive Trends Report
While trucks have displayed very apparent growth in the U.S. market regarding vehicle class, battery electric and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles represent another growing segment of U.S. vehicles. Market penetration of these vehicles remains relatively low. However, Figure 2 shows that electrified vehicles (BEVs, HEVs, and FCEVs) reached a combined production share estimate of 9.3% in 2021.
Figure 3: U.S. Electrified Light Vehicle Sales & Market Share
Source: Ward’s Automotive Reports (from 2010 and on), HybridCars.com, and CAR Research
Today, most of the vehicles produced in the United States are classified as larger truck SUVs, car SUVs, and pickups. Electrifying these vehicle types with minimal compromise will be crucial in U.S. BEV deployment. Heavier vehicles require more energy to move than lower-weight vehicles.2 Incorporating today’s battery-electric propulsion systems into heavy vehicles will involve technological challenges and consumer compromises. Overcoming these hurdles in the near term will require incentives for consumers and manufacturers as well as accelerated product innovation among OEMs. Market saturation of BEVs will require openness from consumers, innovation from the private sector, and appropriate incentives from the public sector.
Several established OEMs and startups are looking to electrify the U.S. light-duty truck segment in the next few years. As the first companies to address the new majority of U.S. car consumers, it’s important that their vehicle launches are successful and consumers embrace the products.. Chevrolet’s Electric Silverado, Ford’s F-150 Lightning, GMC’s Hummer EV, Lordstown’s Endurance, Nikola’s Badger, Rivian’s R1, and Tesla’s Cybertruck will function as the critical first steps towards expanding the scope of the BEV market and making it more inviting to U.S. consumers. It is early, but the race to electrify the U.S. light-duty truck segment is getting serious.
 The 2021 EPA Automotive Trends Report, p. 15
 The 2021 EPA Automotive Trends Report, p. 22
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