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Established Automakers Announce Bold Moves In Electrification


Tesla grabs a lot of headlines for innovating electric cars and driverless technology. But recently, those headlines have also been about production delays and quality control problems, which is giving older car companies like Toyota, Mercedes Benz and General Motors a chance to catch up. Here's NPR's Sonari Glinton.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: The keynote speaker at the Consumer Electronics Show, a former furniture executive turned University of Michigan athletic director turned car CEO.


UNIDENTIFIED MAN: President and CEO of Ford Motor Company to the CES keynote stage.


GLINTON: Dressed in a black sweater vest, Hackett seemed to channel his best Steve Jobs. Hackett is coming to CES to make the case for Ford being a mobility company. They won't just build cars, but offer rental or ride hailing - go way, way beyond just making and selling cars. And he's standing onstage in front of a moving display of the street of the future.


JAMES HACKETT: Now as you head down the street, you see just the analog vehicles really in an analog world. They're running into lines that divide the road and signs that tell the driver where to go. In the future, the car and the system will be talking to each other.

GLINTON: Essentially, Ford and the other car companies want to become more Silicon Valley, less Detroit. And whether by choice or not, the cars are becoming more electric. Christoph von Hugo with Mercedes-Benz says electric vehicles, or EVs, are a cornerstone of the company's new strategy along with shared cars and connected cars.

CHRISTOPH VON HUGO: We are investing heavily in making electrification become better and better, but also the same is true for automation. We don't see them as a contradiction, certainly not, but they go hand in hand.

GLINTON: Mercedes-Benz will make an electric or hybrid version of all its cars by 2022, and they're not alone. Volvo will go all electric by next year. Ford has plans for an electric F-150 truck and an electric Mustang. GM will launch 10 electric or hybrid cars in the country by 2020. And von Hugo says the coolness of self-driving cars will help convince the public that the coming EVs will be worthwhile.

VON HUGO: As we progress in autonomous driving, we will also see more and more of these autonomous vehicles being driven with electric powertrains.

JEREMY CARLSON: I am Jeremy Carlson, principal analyst with IHS markets, and I'm in Las Vegas at the convention center for CES 2018.

GLINTON: Carlson started out a car geek, but he says nowadays a car geek has to be a tech geek, as well.

CARLSON: That is correct. However, CES is now one of the biggest automotive shows, certainly in North America, and arguably one of the most influential across the industry at this point.

GLINTON: Carlson says auto-makers have long spent money on various technologies like self-driving and electric cars, but right now there are only a handful of electric cars available around the country. With dozens of EVs hitting the market in coming years, that will change, says Carlson.

CARLSON: The choice that we'll see in the many different types of electric vehicles and the different packaging for these technologies we expect is really going to start to hasten kind of deployment and uptake and interest from consumers.

GLINTON: If an electric hatchback won't tempt consumers, the car companies are hoping that maybe an electric pickup truck will, or a sports car will do the trick. What about an EV lowrider?

Sonari Glinton, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sonari Glinton is a NPR Business Desk Correspondent based at our NPR West bureau. He covers the auto industry, consumer goods, and consumer behavior, as well as marketing and advertising for NPR and Planet Money.