Gas-Powered Cars Are a Long Way From Dead
Allocating resources is always tricky. We see automakers present cool concepts and want to know if they will put them into production, not a given because development dollars are stretched across a large portfolio. Sports cars, coupes, and convertibles often lose out to mainstream vehicles. Sedans for quite some time have faced an uphill battle against more popular SUVs. But a new divide has emerged: Is today’s vehicle-development money earmarked for a new or next-generation model with an internal combustion engine (ICE), or will it be spent on an electric vehicle?
Headlines center around new EVs and the billions automakers are spending to create them. Electrics are consuming larger portions of capital budgets because, like it or not, that is where the industry is headed. By 2035 many cities, states, countries, and regions will only allow the sale of zero-emission new vehicles, and it will in theory be achievable because pure EVs will be the only new options in most showrooms.
Transitioning to an all-electric new-car fleet is expensive, with potential to suck all the oxygen out of a room. Present-day optics indicate vehicles with gas-powered engines are not getting much love or money and are now reduced to fighting for scraps before they are phased out of existence.
It’s not, nor should it be, a case of ICE versus EV. It’s OK to love and buy the vehicles we grew up with and still embrace new electric cars hitting the market. We’re excited about electric full-size pickups, e-muscle cars from Dodge, cool offerings from the Korean companies, and quiet but powerful luxury/sports models from Porsche, Mercedes, and BMW, not to mention innovative offerings from startups like Rivian and Lucid.
Our enthusiasm, however, cannot be at the expense of the ICE vehicles customers will keep buying for the rest of the decade. To remain competitive, automakers must continue to update their ICE fleet, finding more practical and prudent ways to stretch smaller budgets.
Case in point: Ford’s commitment to many more years of pony car sales with the 2024 Ford Mustang. The seventh-gen Mustang could have gone in several directions. Planning for it dates back to 2017, when all options were on the table: two-door, four-door, AWD, new platform, hybrid, pure EV, and conventional ICE. The Mustang team at every turn had to justify its decision to make a new ICE vehicle while Dearborn’s future is focused on EVs. The team kept what made Mustang successful to date then modified the existing platform, upgraded the turbo-four and V-8 powertrains, preserved the manual transmission, added a drift brake, skipped electrification, and gave the car a more retro look with a modern interior and advanced tech.
In other words, Ford made a real business case to extend the life of the traditional Mustang coupe that’s already outsold by the Mustang Mach-E electric crossover. The EV will carry the volume torch, making it possible for the legacy car to continue.
Across town, Chevrolet took the wraps off the 2024 Corvette E-Ray, which is still a gas-snorting mid-engine sports car but with a small electric motor up front for all-wheel drive and a quicker 0-60-mph time than the Z06.
A pure electric Corvette will happen, but for now, Chevy engineers found a way to get more out of the existing C8. Like the Mustang, development was practical and frugal. The E-Ray uses the Stingray’s chassis and V-8 and the Z06’s wider bodywork and wheel and tire sizes. The batteries are stuffed into the tunnel between the seats. There was never a plan for a plug-in hybrid version—the E-Ray is a 655-hp daily driver with an electric motor to boost performance. It can creep out of your neighborhood in electric stealth mode, but after 4 miles the 6.2-liter V-8 roars to life.
GM also announced plans to spend almost $1 billion to build a sixth-generation small-block V-8 engine for its full-size trucks and SUVs. The investment sounds small against the $35 billion it earmarked to introduce 30 electric vehicles and build 1 million EVs annually by 2025, but it ensures continued updates to ICE vehicles in the interim.
Elsewhere in Detroit, Stellantis introduced the new Hurricane family of twin-turbo I-6 engines; only half its vehicles will be electric by 2030, so the other half needed better and more efficient ICE technology. The stellar new engine made its debut on the Wagoneer L family.
The point: EV and ICE can happily coexist—and even thrive in the near term. Most automakers have not taken drastic steps like Ford, which divorced itself by separating the company into EV and ICE divisions. Fortunately, it is an amicable separation with joint custody of some of the vehicles and much of the tech.
Edges can be blurred in the transition, like the electric Dodge Charger Daytona SRT e-muscle car featuring an actual piped “exhaust” system and multispeed transmission. Chevy also enhanced the sound of the E-Ray by adding in some of the electric motor’s whine. Yes, the auto industry is in upheaval and the transition to an EV-only fleet is expensive, but it doesn’t have to be exclusive. Automakers in the interim aren’t throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
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