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Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage

Jon LeSage is a California-based journalist covering clean vehicles, alternative energy, and economic and regulatory trends shaping the automotive, transportation, and mobility sectors.

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Luxury Automakers Pivot To EVs

Global automakers see electrified luxury cars as vital to being Tesla-competitive, government mandate-compliant, and standing out as high-performance innovative carmakers.

Product announcements this week from Nissan’s Infiniti luxury brand and Volkswagen’s Porsche division tap into a larger story from last year. While global automakers are watching what Tesla is up to, an announcement in July by near-luxury brand Volvo seems to have had just as much impact on new vehicle product planning.

The Japanese automaker is working to position Infiniti as the premier electrified brand in a five-year plan that will extend through 2022, according to Nissan CEO Hiroto Saikawa. These new Infiniti models will either be all-electric or will use its “e-power” hybrid system that creates power through an electric battery and a small gasoline engine.

Infiniti said it will introduce its first all-electric vehicle in 2021. The luxury brand expects that more than half of its global vehicle sales will be electric vehicles by 2025 through its five-year plan.

It’s Nissan’s first shift away from the flagship EV, the Nissan Leaf. A new version of the Leaf extends its per-charge driving range to nearly 200 miles.

Earlier in this decade, the company had set aside a plan to make a luxury-level version of the Leaf. The Infiniti brand opens to the door to an already loyal luxury customer base, which expects to see an innovative, high performance EV come to market. Related: Are Hedge Funds Pushing Oil Prices Too High?

Half of all Porsche models will have some form of electrification by 2023, Porsche Cars North American CEO Klaus Zellmer said this week while speaking at the annual Automotive News World Congress in Detroit.

The product lineup will include model offerings that may include hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or battery electric drivetrains. It will include the long-awaited Mission E all-electric performance car, which is slated to come out next year.

Porsche executives hint that they’ll also be rolling out electric versions of their iconic core models, such as the 911.

Volkswagen drastically changed its product pipeline during the fallout from the September 2015 action taken by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency against VW’s diesel car emissions “cheating” scandal. A year later, the company launched an aggressive move to electricity its fleet, starting with the ID concept car.

The ID platform, and other EV architectures, would be transferred over to performance brand Porsche and luxury brand Audi, the automaker said.

Bold moves were also announced by Daimler and BMW around that time, with more pressure being felt by attention paid to Tesla and stringent action by the German government to correct the “dirty diesel” scandal.

There’s also the high-performance luxury experience that Porsche, Infiniti, and other brands expect to tap into.

During the World Congress presentation, Zellmer said that the brand has been working harder at bringing younger buyers into the fold. The new Porsche Passport subscription service is helping that move, with nearly 80 percent of those joining the program not having owned a Porsche before, he said.

Volvo Cars will also tap into an innovative subscription service to bolster sales support for its new Polestar performance electric brand.

In July 2017, Volvo announced that it will electrify all of its new vehicle offerings starting in 2019. Five all-electric models will come out between 2019 and 2021, three under the Volvo brand, and two under Polestar.

These five cars will also have other electrified options that may include gasoline and diesel plug-in hybrids and 48-volt options.

The Polestar brand was launched in the month prior. It was tied into committing to minimize its environmental impact and make cites of the future cleaner.

Polestar also opens the door to additional market segments. Volvo has been known for decades as providing safe, reliable cars that could be maintained by owners for decades. The Polestar brand reaches out to consumers willing to spend a bit more for performance and luxury perks.

As Tesla can attest to, luxury buyers are fascinated with the torque power of the electric drivetrain.

Its original model, the Tesla Roadster, received a refresh in November. The automaker bragged that it can go from zero to 60 mph in 1.9 seconds, it has 620 miles of range per charge, and can reach a top speed of 250 mph.

The first model under the new Volvo brand, the Polestar 1, will start production in mid-2019 at a new factory in Chengdu, China. The monthly subscription cost will be $2,000 for the entry-level Launch package that covers registration, insurance, and maintenance, with no deposit required.

The Polestar 1 has a 600-horsepower electric performance hybrid powertrain. It will be the longest running battery-only plug-in hybrid out there with the ability to go 93.2 miles on battery power.

French automaker PSA has Tesla- and Volvo-competitive plans in place as well. On Wednesday, CEO Carlos Tavares said that the French automaker will offer 40 electrified models across its five brands — Peugeot, Citroen, Opel, Vauxhall and DS — worldwide by 2025.

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Offerings will include partial or all-electric powertrains to lower emissions, Tavares said while speaking at the Automotive News World Congress.

"We want to become the most efficient carmaker ... not the largest," Tavares said.

PSA’s premium brand DS Automobiles will play a large part in the electrified vehicle campaign. DS announced that it will release a new electrified model each year, starting with the DS 7 Crossback plug-in hybrid. An SUV is slated for spring 2019.

Designers and engineers at DS say they’ve been greatly influenced by participating in the worldwide Formula E electric racing series. Racing EVs helped the team evaluate its new drivetrain system by tapping into lessons learned during high-speed racing.

By Jon LeSage for Oilprice.com

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