DETROIT – Automakers have promised to start selling hordes of electric cars in the next few years, but only two will be unveiled at the big Detroit auto show that kicked off this week — and those aren't even ready for production.
Meanwhile, there will be plenty of SUVs and high-horsepower sports cars on display as cheap gasoline helps SUV and truck sales continue their dramatic climb.
Some environmental groups contend that companies aren't really interested in efficiency because they are making tons of money from the sales of less-efficient SUVs and pickup trucks. These groups also said that without government fuel economy requirements, automakers won't make progress toward electric vehicles that could reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Auto executives, however, said they are already moving to more fuel-efficient trucks and SUVs, some now coming with gas-electric hybrid power systems. Soon there will be many electric SUVs, they said.
"Every one of our SUVs has hybrids somewhere in the future, hybrids or electrified vehicles of some sort," said Craig Patterson, Ford's SUV marketing manager.
Patterson helped to show off a new version of the Ford Explorer big SUV, and it will have an optional hybrid power system. It is Ford's first hybrid SUV in six years, and the company also has plans for a fully electric SUV based on the Mustang sometime next year. Seven battery-powered vehicles are planned for the U.S. by 2022, even a hybrid pickup truck.
General Motors plans a Cadillac electric vehicle in 2021, and more than 20 that run on batteries or hydrogen in four years. Volkswagen, the world's largest automaker, wants to increase the number of electric models from six to over 50 by 2025. Other brands such as Audi, BMW and Porsche and Jaguar are rolling out electric vehicles.
But in December, almost 72 percent of new vehicles sold in the U.S. were SUVs and trucks, up from 49 percent at the end of 2012. Because of the shift, Ford, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors are canceling some or all of their sedan lines. At the same time, they are hedging their bets by planning electrics and hybrids to give people fuel-efficient SUV options should gas prices rise from the current national average of around $2.24 per gallon.
Design work on the Explorer and other vehicles being introduced at the North American International Auto Show began more than three years ago, when automakers thought their new vehicle fleet had to average about 36 miles per gallon by 2025 under U.S. fuel economy standards. That's about 10 mpg more than the current standards.