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The Future of Plug-In SUVs

by Ron Cogan and Bill SiuruAugust 30, 2019
What’s in the pipeline for plug-in SUVs? Plenty. It’s no secret that buyers are embracing crossovers and SUVs in ever-greater numbers. They’re functional, fun, and a favorite of families and sports enthusiasts alike. Increasingly, more will be offering a plug.

Sport-utility vehicles have been popular for some time, although you wouldn’t know it by reading all the hype these days about their new-found domination of the market. Yes, SUVs are trendy, they’re spacious, and their functionality can’t be overstated. But we’ve known that for years, ever since the Jeep Cherokee of the 1980s enjoyed widespread success and pretty much defined the modern SUV.

But this is a new day and SUVs have transformed. While some full-size SUVs continue to be body-on-frame models with legendary hauling, towing, and off-roading capabilities, most are not. They defer instead to the lighter and smoother-riding unibody construction common to passenger car models.

Today’s SUVs, or crossover SUVs like the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV and Hyundai Kona Electric shown here, have become car-like in most respects. Some, like the four-wheel drive Outlander PHEV, continue to offer the off-road capabilities we’ve come to expect from SUVs over the years. Others often provide more sedate off-road capabilities if they embrace off-roading at all. The tradeoff is a comfortable ride and a highly desired car-like experience, even as they continue to offer SUV styling, functionality, and carrying capacity.

Is it a wonder that crossover SUVs are being offered as plug-in hybrids or all-electric vehicles by a growing number of automakers? Nope. In fact, it’s entirely predictable. Vehicle manufacturers recognize the growing desire for these high-functionality vehicles combined with greater efficiency and electrification. Enter the world of plugin SUVs and crossovers that are here now in growing numbers, with a virtual wave of new plug-in SUV models coming. Here's a look at what's in the pipeline:

AUDI will be bringing a plug-in hybrid version of its Q5 crossover to the U.S. sometime in 2020, It will not carry ‘e-tron’ badging since this is reserved for Audi’s fully electric models. The Q5 PHEV will use a turbocharged direct injection engine that works together with an electric motor integrated in the transmission. A 14.1 kWh lithium-ion battery beneath the floor is estimated to provide about 25 miles of all-electric driving on the European WLTP cycle, with a lower projected range here under EPA’s tougher test cycle.

BMW will now build electrified versions of its mainstream models, not unique electrics like the i3 and i8. Thus, the iX3 will be based on BMW’s conventional X3 SUV with an electric drive system under the hood and batteries beneath the floor. The iX3 will use the company’s fifth generation electric car architecture with motors that don’t require rare-earth metals, making them cheaper and likely easier to produce. More densely constructed battery packs with increased capacity will also be used to save cost and weight. The new motor develops 270 horsepower and is powered by a 70-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, delivering a range of 249 miles on the European driving cycle that will be less when tested on the EPA cycle here. Since conventional X3s are already built in the U.S. it’s likely the iX3 will be sold here as well.

The plug-in BMW X3 xDrive30e compact SUV will arrive in the U.S. sometime in 2020 as a 2021 model. This AWD crossover combines a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine with a 107 horsepower electric motor, offering a total output of 293 horsepower. Also coming is the X5 xDrive45e iPerformance plug-in hybrid. It uses a 112 horsepower electric motor integrated into the car’s eight-speed automatic transmission and a 3.0-liter, 286 horsepower turbocharged inline-six engine. Its 24 kWh lithium-ion battery is expected to provide about 40 miles of electric-only range. BMW’s iNext is still in concept form so details about this electric crossover are scarce. It will also use the BMW fifth-generation battery design and a 120 kWh battery pack for more than 400 miles of range.

FISKER is planning an electric SUV for introduction in late 2021, although details are slim at this point. The effort is headed by Henrik Fisker, who designed and sold a luxury plugin sedan through the former Fisker Automotive earlier this decade. Fisker Inc. says it will offer an advanced SUV with a range of 300 miles on lithium-ion batteries. That it will offer a futuristic, elegant, and muscular look as claimed by the company is no surprise, considering Henrik Fisker previously designed such iconic cars as the Aston Martin DB9 and BMW Z8. The Fisker SUV is projected to have a base price under $40,000.

FORD will offer standard hybrid and plug-in-hybrid versions of the new 2020 Escape SUV. Both will use a 2.5- liter four-cylinder engine with two electric motors. The hybrid will use an underfloor 1.1 kWh lithium-ion battery pack while the plug-in will integrate a 14.4 kWh pack, with the latter providing an electric range of 30 miles. The Escape hybrid goes on sale this year with the plug-in hybrid arriving in 2020. While Ford will be producing a 2020 Explorer PHEV, it’s for Europe only and at this point there are no plans for it to join the hybrid in the U.S. An electric crossover with styling inspired by the original Mustang is expected to appear in late 2020.

The automaker’s Lincoln luxury brand will be offering a 2020 Aviator PHEV here that’s built on the same platform as the Explorer. It will share that model’s twin-turbocharged 3.0-liter V-6 and 99 horsepower electric motor to provide a combined 450 horsepower and 620 lb-ft torque. The 2020 Lincoln Corsair, replacement for the MKC, is also offering a plug-in hybrid version at launch. Given Lincoln’s plans for electrification, there’s a decent chance that full-electric variants will be added a few model years down the road. The Corsair shares many parts with the new Escape PHEV, but its styling is unique with distinctively Lincoln DNA. Lincoln is also planning an electric crossover based on Ford’s Mustang-inspired EV.

GM’s star in the electric crossover field is it Chevy Bolt, a winner of Green Car Journal’s 2017 Green Car of the Year®. Since its introduction, the Bolt has provided an impressive 238 miles of battery range at an affordable price, with better battery chemistry now increasing the 2020 model’s range to 259 miles.

Moving forward, GM is looking to its luxury brand Cadillac to take a higher profile in the company’s upcoming electric vehicle efforts in the U.S. While the General has only provided a glimpse of its developing electric vehicle program, we know it will include a 5-passenger electric Cadillac SUV with a range greater than 300 miles. Slated to appear in Cadillac dealerships around 2022, it will be the first built on GM’s new BEV3 platform that’s adaptable to front-, rear-, and all-wheel-drive, plus vehicles of various dimensions. GM has conceptionally shown 11 possible vehicles, from seven-passenger SUVs to small crossover utilities, that could be built on the BEV3 platform.

JEEP will offer plug-in-hybrid versions of the Renegade and Compass as 2020 models. Both will use a 1.3-liter turbocharged engine and an electric motor to produce a combined 240 horsepower, offering an electric-only range of about 31 miles. The electric motor powers the rear wheels, so a driveshaft is not needed for 4WD. In addition, Jeep is likely to offer a PHEV version of the Wrangler at some point, though it’s not known if this will make it to American roads.

MERCEDES-BENZ will be introducing its new EQC, the first in a growing family of all-electric vehicles to be produced under the EQ brand. The crossover features two electric motors, one at each axle, providing the EQC an impressive 402 horsepower and 564 lb-ft torque that’s delivered to the road through 4MATIC all-wheel drive. Along with standard 240-volt Level 2 charging, the model’s 80 kWh lithium-ion battery is capable of DC Fast Charging from 10 to 80 percent state-of-charge in 40 minutes. Rated at an estimated 220 mile range, it will be sold next year as a 2020 model with an estimated price of around $70,000.

RIVIAN, a new brand on the scene, says it will begin production of its seven seat R1S electric SUV in 2020. Rivian’s ‘skateboard’ architecture locates its battery pack in the floor at the middle of the vehicle. The all-electric SUV is powered by four motors, two per axle, with each providing torque to a wheel. Three battery pack and electric motor configurations will be offered. The 180 kWh battery variant is mated to motors with a total output of 700 horsepower, delivering a claimed range of over 400 miles. A 135 kWh variant with 754 horsepower will provide a range of about 300 miles, with the base 403 horsepower, 105 kWh model delivering 250 miles. The R1S SUV is expected to start at $72,500.

TESLA already offers the Model X electric SUV and plans to supplement this with a more compact Model Y variant. It will be built on the same platform as the existing Model 3 sedan and available as a seven-seater. Standard and Long Range versions of the rear-wheel drive SUV are planned, plus a base Dual Motor model and a Performance model with all-wheel-drive. A 230-300 mile range is promised. While we’ve found Tesla to offer only higher-priced, higher content new models at launch, the company says its Standard version will cost $39,000, the Long Range $47,000, the Dual Motor AWD $51,000, and the Performance variant $60,000. Tesla says the Model Y may appear as a late 2020 or 2021 model, but since the company has a history of launching models later than promised we’ll just have to wait and see.

VW will offer a production version of its ID Crozz concept as the first of several new battery-electric vehicles to sold in the U.S. The ID Crozz is powered by a 200 horsepower electric motor located between the rear wheels with another 100 horsepower motor between the front wheels, providing all-wheel-drive. An 83 kWh lithium-ion battery pack beneath the floor is expected to provide up to 300 miles of driving range. Fast-charging with a commercial 150 kW charger will take just 30 minutes to regain 80 percent battery capacity. The model is expected to go on sale in 2020.

Of course, other automakers are fielding plug-in SUV concepts and there will surely be additional production models announced in the near future. This field is fluid and automakers are responding to plug-in SUV demand in real time, so stay tuned.