By: Lawrence Ulrich
The electric future, as dreamed up in the 1990s, centered on groundbreaking cars like General Motors’ EV1: tiny, faceless transportation pods, their sci-fi bubble shapes a testament to aerodynamic function over stylistic form.
In 2020, the equivalent of a three-ton fist would jolt awake any futurist or environmentalist of that era: Say hello to G.M.’s 1,000-horsepower electric Hummer, that onetime green scourge, now rehabilitated to pass muster at any Silicon Valley cocktail party. Behold the beefy pickup trucks from Ford and Chevrolet, as well as upstarts like Rivian and Bollinger. Elon Musk at Tesla couldn’t resist upstaging rivals with the concept Cybertruck, a truck so Mad Max-macho that it makes a Hummer seem discreet.
Beyond the pickup realm, new electric models from Tesla, Audi, Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Cadillac share a common trait: They’re all luxury S.U.V.s, with rich accommodations, potent acceleration and generous space for families.
Mr. Musk expects his new Model Y crossover S.U.V. to be Tesla’s most popular model yet. Mainstream brands, including Ford, Toyota, Hyundai and Kia, are also forgoing small cars and family sedans in favor of plug-in S.U.V.s, including the eagerly awaited Ford Mustang Mach-E. In this environment, the Mini Cooper SE, an urban cutie-pie with a slight 110-mile driving range, looks like an anomaly rather than the shape of things to come.
Rivian is an especially colorful, full-scale illustration of the industry’s change of heart and tactics. When RJ Scaringe founded Rivian, after earning an engineering doctorate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, his small E.V. company completed a two-seat sports car before he tore up the plans in favor of the sleek R1T pickup and R1S S.U.V.
S.U.V.s have achieved something like global dominance, and Mr. Scaringe acknowledged electric automakers’ sense of “can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Barring government actions that force buyers’ hands, he said, the threat of climate change alone isn’t enough to make most people give up the family-size, all-wheel-drive models they’ve come to love.
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