Spotlight on EVs: Chicago Auto Show and Beyond

Electric vehicle technologies have improved dramatically in recent years, and these cars are becoming more widely adopted each year as evidenced at this year’s Chicago Auto Show.

by Grace Lee, Communications Intern

As the impact of climate change worsens, concerns about fossil fuel-powered cars have also been growing, especially since the transportation sector is currently the greatest contributor to carbon emissions in the U.S. Fortunately, electric vehicles offer a sustainable alternative to internal combustion engine cars and trucks. The good news is electric vehicle technologies have improved dramatically in recent years, and these cars are becoming more widely adopted each year. As evidence, this year’s Chicago Auto Show offered an exciting new development in EV marketing, and more of them were visible on the exhibit floor.

The 2021 Chicago Auto Show

The 2021 Chicago Auto Show featured 17 different electric vehicle models from 10 different carmakers, including BMW, Chevrolet, Ford, and Toyota. This represents a notable growth in zero-emission vehicles on display compared to previous years. Just last year, only about 10 EVs were featured at Chicago’s massive McCormick Place Convention Center. In addition to more EV models, this year’s show also offered a greater number of electric vehicles, including the Volkswagen ID.4, available for test drives.

The automakers will reduce customer anxiety if they promote electric vehicles properly. That’s a critical step in the successful transition to EVs.

A particularly notable addition to the 2021 show was Ford’s “Built to Electrify” immersive experience. Centered around the all-electric 2022 Ford-150 Lightning, the experience was created by Ford to show customers how easy it is to switch to electric cars. ELPC Senior Attorney Rob Kelter attended this year’s show and reported that what “really stood out at the auto show was Ford’s enthusiasm for the new Ford ‘Built to Electrify Immersive Experience’ and the level of excitement Ford’s representatives have for both the F-150 Lightning pick-up truck and the Mustang Mach-E electric sport utility vehicle. These models work on every level in terms of providing vehicle performance, quality, and looks. Customers want all three, and Ford delivers.” Listen to Kelter talk about EVs and the Chicago Auto Show on Crain’s Daily Gist podcast here.

Electric vehicles’ rising popularity

Outside the 2021 Chicago Auto Show, more electric vehicles can be seen on Illinois’s roads, as demonstrated by the notable increase in EV sales over the past few years. As of July 2021, about 31,912 electric vehicles were registered throughout Illinois. Comparatively, in December 2017, there were only 8,255 EVs sold in the state. In addition, while Illinois saw 41.8% growth in sales between 2016 and 2017, sales then jumped by 93% between 2017 and 2018. This increase made Illinois the state with the 9th most electric vehicles sold in 2018, behind states including California, Washington, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. Since then, pollution-free vehicles have continued to rise in popularity, as evidenced by the increase in registered EVs.

Incentives sweeten the deal

These growing numbers may be, in part, due to the variety of federal and state incentives that are available to encourage consumers to switch to electric vehicles. One of the most influential incentives is a federal tax credit, extending up to $7,500, for electric vehicles. This credit applies to the first 200,000 EVs sold by each manufacturer. Specific to Illinois is a 50% rebate offered on EV charging installation costs, up to $3,000 per non-networked station.

Beyond existing rebates, both state and federal elected officials are working to further incentivize consumers to switch to electric vehicles. In April, as part of a bill entitled the Consumers and Climate First Act, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker proposed a $4,000 rebate for electric vehicles. The bill is currently stalled in the state legislature, but this rebate may be available in the future, which could encourage more Illinois consumers to trade in their gas-guzzlers for a zero-emission car or light truck.

In addition, the U. S. Senate “Clean Energy for America” bill, co-sponsored by Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, proposes $100 billion in federal spending on electric vehicle rebates. If passed, the federal tax credit would jump from $7,500 to $12,500 for electric vehicles retailing under $80,000. More incentives for EVs are likely to be part of various bills winding their way through Congress.

The future will be electric

Though incentives can play an important role in influencing the switch to electric vehicles, the cash savings may not be enough to convince drivers to adopt a fundamentally different type of car or light truck. Rob Kelter explains that “while range anxiety and other issues are real, the bottom line is that it takes customers time to feel comfortable with new technologies. The automakers will reduce customer anxiety if they promote the vehicles properly, and Ford, Chevrolet, VW, and others are starting to make that push on the floor of the auto show. That’s a critical step in the successful transition to electric vehicles.”

Thus, it’s vital that potential EV consumers are provided with not only financial incentives but also effective and targeted marketing that addresses the broader hesitations they may have about electric vehicles. Interactive presentations like Ford’s “Built to Electrify” experience is a promising method for convincing consumers to consider buying pollution-free vehicles. If auto manufacturers truly want to make electric vehicles a mainstream form of transportation and a central part of their future car line-up, it is critical that they continue to develop innovative marketing strategies like Ford did at the Chicago Auto Show to put consumers at ease with the new technology and get them excited enough to make the switch.