Tesla, BYD, Volkswagen and General Motors made an honor roll last week.
They were all named to Time magazine’s inaugural list of the world’s 100 most influential companies. GM CEO Mary Barra got special treatment. She was one of the five executives profiled on regional covers. Not bad for an industry that has garnered little respect from the mass media over the years.
All four companies earned shoutouts for their investments in electric vehicles. Tesla and BYD got extra credit for their commitments to renewable energy.
Which is all good. We’ve got no time to spare in the battle against climate change.
And those four companies, as you know, are not alone. In recent months, Jaguar and Honda have joined the list of automakers that have pledged an all-electric future. Most others are investing heavily.
To be sure, part of this effort stems from an ability to read the regulatory writing on the wall. Just look at the number of countries that have committed to zero-emission futures by 2050 or before.
Yet automakers are also taking charge in ways that have not been typical for an industry that has resisted regulation more than it has led on environmental and safety fronts over the decades.
Still, marking destinations is one thing. Getting there is another.
If you think we’ll all soon be gliding along paths glittered with charging stations, think again. Just listen to our April 19 “Daily Drive” podcast with Gary Silberg, automotive chief for KPMG, the consulting firm. Or read the report that’s the focus of the discussion. It’s called “Place Your Billion-Dollar Bets Wisely.” And it spends little time on comfort talk.
A battery-electric vehicle future “is clearly the current conventional wisdom,” the report begins. “We believe that the coming years will be far more complicated and unpredictable than the conventional wisdom suggests.”
For starters, forget about an all-electric landscape, despite the fact that EVs are the focus of a staggering $200 billion in investments from the top 10 global automakers and Tesla alone and another $60 billion from startups. Look instead for what KPMG calls a mosaic of powertrains — including much-cleaner internal combustion engines.
You can also expect massive structural change and overcapacity for factories that make ICE-powered vehicles. And big unknowns surrounding the integrity of electrical grids as well as the price and availability of raw materials for EV batteries.
There’s also some ominous math for those going all-in on EVs. In KPMG’s rosiest scenario for EV penetration, a car company with 5 percent of an ICE-dominated market today would need to capture 15 percent of the EV market in 2030 just to stay where it is.
Yes, EVs have clear advantages on environmental and performance scorecards. (“Personally, I just think they are fantastic,” Silberg says.) But they’ve got some catching up to do on cost, range, convenience and perceived value.
So as GM, VW, BYD and Tesla are being celebrated today, you might wonder which companies will be on Time’s list a decade from now. It may also be germane to ponder which will be around to even be considered.
Placing billion-dollar bets on an uncharted future is now an unavoidable fact of life for automakers. And you know what life is like for high rollers.
As Silberg says on the podcast: “There will be a shakeout, and there’s going to be profound implications, with winners and losers.”