The winners of the 2022 North American Car, Truck and Utility of the Year awards — Honda Civic, Ford Maverick and Ford Bronco, respectively — may be the last hurrah for internal combustion engines.
Winners in each category of the industry’s most competitive honor this year were internal combustion engines.
And even that accomplishment comes with an asterisk: The Ford Maverick’s base model is a hybrid, using an electric motor and batteries to supplement its engine and reduce fuel consumption.
But this year’s competition also was a new high point for electric vehicles. It was the first time all three categories included a pure EV — electric power only, no internal combustion option or feature.
The three EV finalists were:
- Car: Lucid Air
- Truck: Rivian R1T
- Utility vehicle: Hyundai Ioniq 5
The tide has irrevocably turned to EVs. Electric cars, SUVs and pickups aren’t fully mature products, but they are in ascendance.
The technology is still evolving, the national charging network is woefully inadequate, but those are questions about timing, not the eventual result.
It won’t happen tomorrow. Internal combustion engines — ICE for short — will be around for decades. They’ll power vehicles that win awards, sell in high volumes and do important work. But with each passing year, EVs will do more of those things.
EVs are evolving
That makes this a good time to reconsider the less helpful parts of the ongoing discussion of EVs.
They aren’t right for everybody, but neither are they a wacky piece of social engineering Big Brother is forcing on consumers, something former Trump administration EPA Director Andrew Wheeler alluded to when talks were hot about California air standards.
But some people really want them. Case in point: The waiting list for the electric Ford F-150 Lighting pickup had to be recently cut off at 200,000, more than two years production, which confirms there’s a growing market for EVs. But not everybody wants them. Not today.
EVs are a tool. A way to get from one place to another. A way to deliver goods. A way to tow horse trailers, campers and hay wagons. EVs can do some of those things brilliantly now. But not all.
Unless you believe automakers will unilaterally cease building products people need and buy in high numbers, internal combustion engine vehicles will be around to answer the questions EVs can’t.
A tool either works or it doesn’t. A generation ago, EVs didn’t work for most people. Today, they work for more. The trend line of technical development and global automakers’ investment makes it almost inevitable that number will grow, probably quickly.
But will they fail in a blizzard?
So expect EVs in next year’s winner’s circle, and more in the future, but probably not a clean sweep. The technology is evolving, and both it and the infrastructure supporting EVs — notably, roads that are equipped to sense technology in EVs — will continue to be subject of arguments that are more about politics than safe, reliable transportation.
A couple of recent examples:
Social media claims that massive traffic backups in California and Nevada were caused by EVs that ran out of charge when they were stuck in a blizzard. Not true, say the fact checkers at USA Today.
Questions and misinformation about staying warm in an EV also proliferated after the recent 24-hour highway snow jam outside Washington, D.C., and a report of a Tesla owner begging for help because he feared running out of power to heat his vehicle. That incident hasn’t been disproved, and there are too many variables to dismiss the question out of hand, but there’s plenty of evidence showing EVs are at least as capable of keeping occupants warm as ICE vehicles.
Heat pumps, a common feature on EVs, “use about 2 kilowatts an hour,” said Craig Van Batenberg, who trains EV technicians and wrote about heating EV passenger compartments for SAE International, the global engineering association. “With a 60 kWh battery, I could heat the interior for about 30 hours.”