The Answer to the Electric-Car Conundrum Isn’t Elon Musk

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Many American drivers are still reluctant to buy pricey battery-powered vehicles. So what’s driving the current hype? Bulk buyers committing to hundreds of thousands of workaday electric cars and trucks.

Electric vehicles have long posed a chicken-or-egg conundrum for auto executives. 

Buyers too often find them to be pricey, ugly, limited on range or unavailable. Car companies won’t invest because we aren’t interested in buying. We aren’t interested because there’s little to choose from. So, thirsty SUVs and pickups, powered by cheap gasoline, keep driving the U.S. car market.

Yet, American business can’t stop talking about electric vehicles in 2020. Manufacturers are introducing battery-powered versions of nearly anything that moves, and EV startups are standing in line to go public. This past week Volvo Group introduced an electric Mack garbage truck and Ford Motor Co. broke ground on a factory to make electric F-150 pickups. Next month General Motors Co. unveils a battery-powered Hummer.

It would be easy to credit the hype to Tesla Inc. Chief Executive Elon Musk. He’s brilliant and enigmatic. His cars are well-designed and fun. His company is thriving and has spawned aspiring copycats—including Nikola Corp., which is facing government scrutiny—that have attracted billions from investors.

What’s powering the buzz now is there are buyers. Not individual gear heads and technophiles shelling out big bucks for a Tesla, electric Jaguar or e-Porsche, but companies committing to hundreds of thousands of sturdy, affordable, workaday electric cars and trucks.

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