How the big car brands plan to go electric | FOS Future Lab

05th March 2021
Dan Trent

Given how long it’s been coming – and the disruptive influence of a certain billionaire’s pet project – it seems amazing it’s taken this long for the mainstream industry to wake up to electrification. But respond it finally has, perhaps focused by decisions like that of our own government to legislate internal combustion engined cars off the road sooner rather than later. This is a massive moment in the history of the automobile, and we’re living right through it. To keep you up to speed with how the carmakers are tooling up for this new age we’ll look here at their plans, brand by brand. We’ll update the story as more news comes in so keep checking by for the latest…


Before we get started, here’s a small jargon buster that might come in handy:

  • PHEV – Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle
  • BEV – Battery Electric Vehicle
  • ICE – Internal Combustion Engine



Being part of a huge conglomerate like the Volkswagen group is a double-edged sword for brands like Audi. On the one hand the economies of scale and ability to share expensive platforms are a huge bonus. But turning this oil tanker round is a massive undertaking. On the manufacturing side Audi’s Neckarsulm factory where the new E-Tron GT is built alongside hybrid versions of the A6, A7 and A8, joins sites in Belgium and Hungary in going net carbon neutral. At one end of the product range Audi will benefit from VW’s new modular EV-specific MEB platform with cars like the Q4 E-Tron Sportback while at the other it shares tech with Porsche with the E-Tron GT. Electrifying its classic Vorsprung Durch Technik ideology and maintaining its identity through all this will be its biggest challenge.



Bentley will also benefit from the shared VW group technology but its self-contained nature and the type and quantity of cars it builds gives it a degree more flexibility. And it’s already publicly committed to full electrification of its range by 2030 as part of its ‘Beyond 100’ plans announced last year. The pathway to this means every model range will have a plug-in hybrid option by 2023, with every new model either PHEV or fully electric by 2026. Two new hybrids, including the second-gen Bentayga version, will be in showrooms this year. The Carbon Trust has already certified the Crewe factory as carbon neutral, thanks to its use of renewable energy sources and programmes like the installation of another 10,000 solar panels on car ports on the site while Bentley CEO Adrian Hallmark has stated his intention for the brand to put a luxurious twist on going green. “Driving this change includes, and also goes beyond our products, delivering a paradigm shift throughout our business, with credibility, authenticity, and integrity,” he says. “Within a decade, Bentley will transform from a 100-year-old luxury car company to a new, sustainable, wholly ethical role model for luxury.” 



BMW dipped its toe in the water of electrification with its commendably bold i3 and i8 but customers weren’t apparently ready and it’s instead retreated into more conventional electrified versions of its existing internal-combustion models. It has invested 400m euros in updating its Munich plant for the i4 and iX while ‘off-shoring’ production of internal-combustion engines to Steyr and its Hams Hall factory. “By the end of 2022, each of our German plants will be producing at least one fully electric vehicle,” says to Milan Nedeljković, BMW’s board member for production. “We are capable of producing both vehicles with combustion engines and electric drivetrains on a single line and responding flexibly to customer requests. This is a crucial success factor.” Electrified versions of the 5 and 7 Series are “ready to go” at the Dingolfing plant while Leipzig – home to the i3 – will take on production of the new Mini Countryman in ICE and electrified forms. With an eye to supply chains for materials BMW is also working with two North American universities to explore sustainable lithium extraction in Latin America, which BMW says has two-thirds of the world’s reserves.



The Mach-e is Ford’s big leap into the mainstream electric market and comes with a major restructuring of the brand’s European production base. There’s a whiff of desperation in the corporate lingo, which announces transformation of its German manufacturing base into the ‘Cologne Electrification Centre’ in a blaze of catchphrases like ‘Turnaround auto!’, ‘Modernize everywhere!’ and ‘Disrupt ourselves!’ but the plans are there in black and white, with a commitment for the full passenger car range to be PHEV or BEV by 2026 and fully electrified by 2030. Commercial vehicles will undergo a similar revolution, albeit at a slightly slower pace with the goal of two-thirds of production to be PHEV or BEV by 2030.


Jaguar Land Rover

The last few months have accelerated pressures already facing Jaguar Land Rover but it is choosing to frame this as an opportunity under the ‘Reimagine’ initiative announced by CEO Thierry Bolloré. For Jaguar this means being an all-electric brand by 2025 – yes, you read that right  – while Land Rover will take a slightly slower pace with 60 per cent of its range fully electric by 2030. Hybrids will fill the gap in the meantime, while the business as a whole aims for carbon neutrality by 2039. As part of the plans the new XJ has been canned and all new models will be based on one of two new platforms, Land Rovers using the Modular Longitudinal Architecture (MLA) with hybridised ICE or full BEV options or dedicated Electric Modular Architecture (EMA). All Jaguars will be based on the latter. “We can, and will, move much faster and with clear purpose of not just reimagining modern luxury but defining it for two distinct brands,” says Bolloré. “Brands that present emotionally unique designs, pieces of art if you like, but all with connected technologies and responsible materials that collectively set new standards in ownership. We are reimagining a new modern luxury by design.”



It may be a relative minnow but Lotus now has serious backing and sees potential in partnerships and adapting its existing expertise in ‘lightweighting’ to help bigger brands build electrified platforms. The final editions of the Elise and Exige range have been confirmed, leaving the Evora its only ICE model as excitement builds for the all-electric Evija hypercar. Further plans range from the wild – a jet-fighter inspired racing car design study – to the pragmatic, the latter including confirmation an engineering partnership led by Lotus has won government support to help develop adaptable BEV architecture with the Advanced Propulsion Centre. “Following the launch of the Lotus Evija this project is a key building block in our vision to deliver a full range of electrified Lotus performance cars,” says the firm in a press release. “Funding of this nature is critical to stimulate the automotive industry and supply chain as both continue to adjust to a rapidly changing landscape.”



The hybridised ‘holy trinity’ of the McLaren P1, Ferrari LaFerrari and Porsche 918 Spyder seem like relics of a bygone age already but demonstrated a statement of intent by all three manufacturers that batteries and motors needn’t mean the death of thrilling supercars. Ferrari has, for the moment, reserved electrification for the 1,000PS (735kW) SF90 Stradale but McLaren is bringing plug-in hybrids to a (relatively) more accessible level in the supercar world with its new Artura. A proper PHEV, it can purr around for nearly 20 miles on pure electric power before combining that with a new turbocharged V6 to go full 680PS (500kW) supercar. The tub on which it is based is all new and designed from the outset to support hybrids and full electric models – it’s also built here in the UK at the new Rotherham-based McLaren Composites Technology Centre.  


Mercedes typifies the dilemma faced by big manufacturers needing to switch to electric without simultaneously killing the existing business model and production base. It’s long offered hybridised versions of its mainstream models and they’re typically slick products, electrified adaptations of existing SUVs like the EQC and EQA pragmatic ‘transitional’ models on the face of it but rather shown up in performance and range by rivals who’ve bitten the bullet and developed dedicated EV platforms. It’s been doing the hard miles behind the scenes, though, and the all-electric EQS launches in 2021 on a dedicated platform with flash tech like the all-digital dash. Its plants in Germany, Hungary, China and the US are meanwhile gearing up for electrification under the ‘Ambition 2039’ programme to have an entirely carbon-neutral fleet in less than 20 years while by 2030 60 per cent of its sales will be electrified. “The Mercedes-EQ production network is ready for our electric offensive,” says board member in charge of production Jörg Burzer. “The Mercedes-EQ electric models are gradually being integrated into our existing vehicle plants worldwide. This concept is particularly advantageous because demand for electric and electrified vehicles is developing very differently by region and we can adjust our production planning accordingly on short notice.”



The Porsche Taycan is arguably one step ahead of the infrastructure most owners can currently access but demonstrates how this most celebrated brand intends to maintain its DNA into the electrified age. Short version? It’s got this. Porsche has long mastered leveraging the benefits of being part of VW when it’s helpful while maintaining its independence when required and the Taycan (and the cars it will underpin) is a formidable opening gambit. Owners of its existing (and classic) internal combustion powered cars are meanwhile pinning hopes on the brand’s development of ‘green’ synthetic fuels to keep those traditional flat-sixes purring into the electric age.



While the world fixates on the ludicrous acceleration and other attention-grabbing antics of the electrified elite Renault has been quietly perfecting a more everyday vision of EV motoring with its highly successful Zoe, arguably stealing a march on many of its mainstream rivals in the process. Plans to have nearly a third of the range fully electrified by 2025 sound relatively modest in the context of that expertise, and the speed with which others are ditching their ICE ranges. In an attempt to address fears electric cars will all feel the same Renault is following the example of Fiat and Honda to plunder past glories to reinforce its visual identity, the Renault 5 inspired concept for a new electric supermini plucking the heartstrings with its retro vibe.



Having seemingly phoned in the ‘new’ eighth generation Golf on an updated version of its MQB architecture it’s clear VW’s focus is really on its dedicated MEB electric platform, which launched with

the ID.3 and will soon spawn the ID.4 SUV version. The benefits of doing so are clear, with increased interior space, as much as double the range of the previous electrified Golf and a flexible choice of power outputs and battery sizes to let customers pick a package to suit their driving needs and budget. MEB-based models from Skoda, SEAT and Audi are already waiting in the wings and, while it’s treading carefully so as not to rattle sales of its ICE and hybrid models, the corporate direction of travel is clear.



As a bastion of middle-class motoring it’s perhaps little wonder Volvo’s stated intention to be a fully electric brand by 2030 got primetime news coverage on Radio 4’s Today programme, the statement confirming it will ditch all ICE models – including hybrids – by that cut-off. The decision bets the farm on “the expectation that legislation as well as a rapid expansion of accessible high-quality charging infrastructure will accelerate consumer acceptance of fully electric cars.” This will be combined with a switch to online sales only for electric models and a new “consumer offer” branded Care by Volvo. “There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” says Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars, flatly. “We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only car maker and the transition should happen by 2030. It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.” Strong words…


Classic conversions

Want to make the switch but want to keep your old classic? Fear not, expect the conversions business electrifying old ICE powered dinosaurs into purring EVs to grow in coming years, be that electric motors in new ‘heritage’ MG shells or fully electrified versions of older cars. Lunaz is one brand industrialising the latter with its newly expanded production facility based at Silverstone. Electrified Rolls-Royce, Jaguar and Range Rover classics have recently been joined by a freshly completed 1961 Bentley S3 Continental Flying Spur with all the mod cons you could wish for. Like the look of it? Prices start at £350,000 before taxes…

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