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A Multifaceted Path to Electrification

By James M. Amend

Michigan automakers continue to work toward more broadly employing electrification in their cars and trucks over the next decade to slash carbon dioxide emissions and unlock new forms of mobility. The strategies they are taking vary as widely as the logos on their buildings.

“Give five engineers a problem and they will come up with five different solutions, the same goes for automakers and electrification,” said Kevin Riddall, senior manager of powertrain forecasting at LMC Automotive in Troy.

The one common thread between FCA, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Co., Nissan and Toyota Motor Corp. is electrification as a way to meet a quickly evolving patchwork of clean air rules around the world.

“It is a very fluid time right now,” Riddall said. “Cities and countries want to get rid of the internal-combustion engine. It is probably one of the most rapid periods of change in automotive history.”

It is difficult to determine whether there is a clear-cut leader in electrification, because automakers have released ambitious plans for the technology requiring a complex confluence of regulatory measures and consumer adoption to be realized. Many plans are global, too. Here is a breakdown of where the five automakers with Michigan ties stand in the race.


Although FCA was an early player in electrification with the Fiat 500e in 2013, the automaker’s late chairman and CEO, Sergio Marchionne, lamented it as a compliance car to meet California’s rigid state requirements. At one point, he urged Americans not to buy it because the company lost thousands of dollars on each one it produced.

The automaker has released two major technologies from its Auburn Hills research and development center. The Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid employs plug-in technology that includes a large battery installed in the floor to give it 33 miles of all-electric propulsion before the engine takes over. The all-new Jeep Wrangler, as well as V-6 and V-8 models of the Ram 1500 full-size pickup, use a much smaller battery to take over some accessory functions and boost efficiency.

The two technologies suggest FCA, at this point, plans to electrify the largest, least fuel-efficient vehicles first to make an impact on its fleetwide fuel efficiency, Riddall said.

FCA also plans to incorporate electrification in its top-selling Jeep models in the next five years.


Ford dipped its toes into electrification most notably with the Ford Focus EV, which it began producing in 2011 but has a range capped to 115 miles. Sales of the car have been modest, even by EV standards.

However, the Dearborn automaker plans to significantly advance its electrified portfolio in the coming years with an $11 billion investment. The research and development outlay will bring 40 hybrid and electric vehicles to market by 2022. It is expected 16 of them will be fully electric and the remainder plug-ins. Industry speculation is that Ford’s legendary V-8 powered products such as the Ford Mustang and Ford F-150 full-size pickup could be among the vehicles slated for electrification.

Ford also has been in discussions with German automaker Volkswagen over possible areas of collaboration and electrification could be a key element. In the wake of its diesel emissions scandal, VW plans to invest $40 billion by 2022 for 27 new electrified vehicles and the two automakers could share technology.


General Motors has laid out one of the industry’s most aggressive electrification plans, and it also holds the distinction of offering the first long-range, low-cost EV in the United States with the Chevrolet Bolt.

The Detroit automaker outlined a broader strategy last year, outlining a future product portfolio targeting zero emissions, zero crashes and zero congestion. It has adopted the strategy as company vision under Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and product development chief Mark Reuss.

The automaker plans 20 new all-electric vehicles by 2020. The rollout already has begun in China with smaller vehicles and includes three near-term EVs based on learnings from the Bolt. GM plans to use proprietary battery technology consisting of lower-cost materials and a flexible vehicle platform that can be used in a variety of applications from cars to crossovers and SUVs.

GM’s long-term strategy also includes hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.


Nissan boasts more EV sales globally than any other automaker, rising to leadership on the back of its groundbreaking Nissan Leaf compact electric vehicle. Introduced in the United States and Japan in 2010, the Leaf is available in 51 markets. The Leaf’s battery system gives it a range of 151 miles, and a 2019 version coming soon is expected to go even further.

Electrification is among the central pillars of the Japanese automaker’s “Nissan M.O.V.E. to 2022” midterm corporate plan. Leveraging EV expertise from around the world, including its Farmington Hills research and development center, Nissan expects to sell 1 million zero-emissions cars by 2022.

Eight new pure electric vehicles will be brought to market by 2022. Models include a multi-brand release in China with local partner Dongfeng and a new mini-EV for Japan. A global crossover is coming based off the Nissan IMx concept car. The Infiniti luxury brand will receive electrification to its products beginning in 2021.

Nissan expects electrified vehicles will comprise 40 percent of company sales in Japan and Europe by 2022 and 50 percent by 2025. Electrified products will comprise between 20 percent and 30 percent of sales in the United States by 2025, while in China it should rise to between 35 percent and 40 percent. By 2025, 50 percent of Infinity sales globally will be electrified.


Toyota is the unqualified leader in hybrid technology, dating back to the launch of the immensely popular Toyota Prius in 1997. It has increased the level of electrification to the Prius family in recent years, although the Japanese automaker is seen as focusing on hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles as a long-term solution.

The automaker announced plans last year to have sales of 5.5 million electrified vehicles by the 2030 timeframe, including 1 million zero-emissions vehicles. In addition, by around 2025, every model in the automaker’s namesake and Lexus luxury brand sold around the world will be available as a dedicated electric model or offer an electrified option.

Leveraging technical expertise from around the world, including its Toyota North America Research Center in Ann Arbor, Toyota plans worldwide availability of 10 EVs in the 2025 timeframe. It expects its plug-in and hybrid-electric portfolio to also grow over the period. Toyota will also expand availability of its hydrogen fuel cell electric vehicle technology to more passenger cars and extend it into commercial products.

James M. Amend is a senior editor at WardsAuto in Southfield.