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3 Big Trends to Know for 2021

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Dec. 23, 2020—Just as shops are prepping to come back strong in a normalized (hopefully post-COVID-19) marketplace in 2021, the automotive industry is poised to see big shifts in the coming year.

The news in 2020 represented a lot of planning at the highest levels. Automakers announced massive investments in EV production and grabbed attention with big-name electric models that haven't yet arrived. Startups got lots of attention for EV prototypes, but none have been delivered yet. In 2021, some of those promises will come due.

As we head into the holiday weeks at the end of 2020, take a look at these three  big trends that will play out over the next 12 months.


Is Ford Out Front?

To the delight or disgust of Ford fans—depending on who you ask—Ford is putting its legendary Mustang badge on a forthcoming electric vehicle. The sporty model, dubbed the Mach-E, was introduced nearly a year ago and is meant to be a direct competitor to the likes of the Tesla Model S.

After a COVID-related launch delay, Ford's Mach-E will be delivered to buyers in "late summer 2021," according to the company. While it's far from the first EV to hit the market, it represents a huge shift (and investment) from automakers that's finally realized with a working production model. Models like the Mach-E are aimed at a larger segment of buyers—not just those who are environmentally minded.

As of last week, the Mach-E was making its rounds in automotive media test drives.

One notable contender, as far as big OE nameplates go, is Volkswagen's ID.4, which should be available to buyers any day now. Hyundai's IONIQ 5 is set for an early 2021 release as well. Both models, which like the Mach-E are small SUVs, could capture strong sales numbers.

Other big-name EVs, like General Motors' Hummer EV, are scheduled for release later.


Regulatory Pressures and the EV Transition

Just as the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards had huge impacts on internal combustion engine development, regulatory pressures will have a big impact on the speed and scale of the electric vehicle transition.

The Center for Automotive Research said as much in an October report outlining some of the highlights of that movement. In particular, California has been at the fore of the push for zero emissions. While the Trump administration revised and relaxed some parts of the CAFE standards, California made a splash by announcing that it will not allow the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035.

Now, an incoming Biden administration could reinstate the increasing emissions schedule of the original CAFE standards, the Center for Automotive Research noted. E and E news reported just that, saying that while it's unknown how steep the transition will be, Biden is expected to direct the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation to set clean car rules that extend beyond 2025.


Which Startup will Prevail?

It's a confusing constellation of financial backers, partners and flashy marketing among the EV startup crowd. Will any of them survive in the long term?

It's tough to say at this point, but it's entirely clear that they're well-funded. They have mega-backers like Amazon, General Motors and Ford, and they are building production facilities that are hundreds of millions of dollars.

Many are in the truck business. There's Rivian, Lordstown Motors, Bollinger, Tesla and Nikola, all of which are looking to capitalize on a potentially lucrative pickup truck market. All are full-speed ahead toward production and it's not clear who will win out.

In the passenger car space, there's Lucid, which is planning a luxury model called the Air. A company called Fisker is working on a compact SUV. There's also Polestar, which is owned by Volvo. All of these names don't cover all that are out there.

It's a crowded field, and as a recent Wall Street Journal article noted, there's tens of billions of investor dollars riding on the outcome. Writer Ben Foldy said that these companies, even with big checkbooks, are competing against the world's largest automakers and have an uphill battle with supply streams, marketing and dealer networks to successfully hit the market. Most haven't build a production vehicle yet.

A couple models, like the Rivian R1T and the Lordstown Endurance, should go on sale in 2021.


Image: Ford

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