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Do you remember when electric cars were a novelty? For perhaps the first time, it seems as though new electric cars were more newsworthy than new petrol cars.
There is scarcely a manufacturer that doesn’t currently offer an EV in its lineup these days – a far cry from the days when the G-Wiz was the best-selling electric car in the UK.
But, with all the noise that accompanies new EV releases, it can be difficult to keep track of the most important models. However, here’s the Auto Futures roundup of the most significant and our favourite electric cars to release this year.
Perhaps our favourite EV to emerge this year, the new Porsche Taycan GTS isn’t strictly a new car. Instead, the GTS versions of Porsche’s lineup typically take the best bits from the options lists of different cars and puts them all in one place with some extra power, to boot.
However, the Taycan is important because it brings a level of desirability and genuine driver involvement to electric cars. Previously, many felt that electric cars simply lacked the engagement provided by petrol-powered cars. The Taycan GTS, on the other hand, is implausibly nimble and, rather than propelling itself forward in sterile silence, it whirrs and rumbles along surprisingly tunefully. It is also, genuinely good-looking.
Of course, it doesn’t come cheap. The Taycan GTS starts at £104,190 for the standard saloon model or £104,990 for the Sport Turismo version.
Of course, the big news from this year in the world of EVs was Rivian’s R1T and R1S entering production and being delivered to customers after being announced way back in December 2017.
Four years ago, the trucks were known as the A1T and A1C and they were officially revealed at the 2018 LA Auto Show and renamed the R1T and R1S. Three years and one huge IPO later, the trucks have finally been shipped to some customers and have been well-received by the public and press alike.
That last point, of course, is important as it demonstrates that ambitious electric vehicles from unknown startups don’t always end disastrously.
Similarly, the Lucid Motors Air finally went into production. A prototype was revealed in 2016 before the production version was revealed in September last year.
Again, there are a few big things that make the Air stand out from the pack. First up is the range – up to 520 miles (840 km) for the Dream Edition. Now, that range isn’t matched across the whole of the Air’s range – the cheapest Air Pure model, for example, can only manage 406 miles, though it is still pretty impressive. The fastest models also come packing more than 1,000 horsepower – a number that used to be reserved for only the most outrageous hypercars.
The Air also comes with DreamDrive which helps it stand apart from other EVs on sale. It has 32 sensors, including 14 cameras to help keep drivers safe and prevent crashes.
Of course, Lucid also aims directly at Tesla. It has the cachet of being a California-based startup without the brand inertia associated with, ahem, “legacy” manufacturers. How these two companies will compete going forward will be interesting to watch.
As one of the biggest automakers in the world, Toyota’s actions matter. However, for the past few years, the Japanese giant has been reluctant to commit to battery EVs, and instead focusing its efforts on hybrids and hydrogen-powered vehicles.
That changed in 2021, though. In October, the company launched the bZ4X, its first electric car built on a completely bespoke platform. A midsize crossover with a clumsy name, the bZ4X promises a 300-mile range and speedy 150 kW DC fast charging. Being built on a bespoke platform, the bZ4X stores its batteries low in the chassis – like most EVs – and means that it should be more competent than previous pure EV efforts from Toyota.
That’s not all, however. Toyota announced earlier this month that it would be launching 30 new battery-electric vehicles by 2030 – a huge commitment from a brand previously reticent about EVs.
Of course, Toyota isn’t completely abandoning hydrogen vehicles. In October, the Mirai broke the world record for the longest hydrogen journey without refuelling – a massive 845 miles. Toyota is even adapting old internal combustion engines to run on hydrogen and sending them racing – as it has with its GR Yaris.
Ride-hailing app users will be familiar with the process: you book a car, wait a while, and then someone turns up in a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight hybrid. However, UK-based commercial EV manufacturer Arrival is trying something slightly different and building a car, in collaboration with Uber, designed specifically for ride-hailing.
Designed to cover 45-50,000 km per year, compared to the 12,000 for most normal cars, and built with driver and passenger safety in mind, the imaginatively named Arrival Car presents a slightly different vision for ride-hailing in the future.
Testing has already begun, though the company hasn’t specified when it will be coming to market. Either way, this new purpose-built EV could radically reshape the look and feel of urban centres around the world.
VinFast and XPENG
It might seem reductive to bundle two new Asian car companies into the same section but, VinFast and XPENG both represent the emerging challenge that European and American manufacturers are going to have to face in the coming years.
VinFast, based in Vietnam, officially launched its global brand at the LA Auto Show this year and is already making big promises about its upcoming VF e35 and e36 vehicles.
XPENG, on the other hand, revealed the G9 this year – its first car designed to be sold outside of its native China.
Despite hailing from pretty different countries, both cars have a focus on smart features rather than powertrains and chassis. You’ll be unlikely to find a European manufacturer claiming that their car has a “centralised supercomputing platform” as XPENG said of the new G9. In fact, XPENG revealed no details about the G9’s range, motors, pricing, or availability when it revealed the car.
VinFast, meanwhile, was keen to point out that its new vehicles will be “smart electric cars that are highly personalized and integrated with technologies that benefit life and our environment.”
Are these brands ahead of the curve? Will drivers in North America and Europe clamour for supercomputers on wheels? We’ll have to wait and see.
As with Toyota, the sheer size of the Volkswagen Group gives it an outsized influence over the transition to EVs.
The VW ID.3 and ID.4 models have proved popular in Europe, the former, in fact, was Europe’s best-selling car in August – note, not best-selling EV but best-selling car.
The Wolfsburg-based behemoth shows no signs of stopping, either, with the ID.5 crossover launching in November with a 323-mile range and a high-performance GTX version accompanying it.
Of course, the VW Group’s tentacles don’t end there. The company has been relentlessly investing in infrastructure and manufacturing capabilities to ensure it can steal a march on potential rivals.
Many people say that Tesla made electric cars desirable, but history will remember the VW Group as the company that made EVs drivable.
2021, of course, will be remembered as the year that EVs got serious.