There have been electric cars since… well, in fact there were electric cars before there were internal combustion engine cars.  So we can say there have always been electric cars.  But since the oil industry took off, and cars dedicated themselves to running on gasoline, electric cars have been so few that it was easy at times to forget that there were any electrics at all.

Fast forward to 2021, with our greater efforts to switch to sustainable and low-polluting energy, and suddenly we’re seeing more electric vehicles in the industry.  But in proportion to the gas-powered industry, there are still not many electrics compared to the number of gas vehicles. In many ways, it seems little has changed.

General Motors may lend a hand in changing that: They claim that they will have 30 electric vehicles on the market by 2030… which sounds like a lot.  Most likely they’d love to be a part of the U.S. government’s push to replace most of their gas-powered fleet with electrics, a significant market.  And other car companies may see that number and, in the interest of competition, strive to create more electrics to increase their market share.  So we could potentially see, in just a few short years, a sizable increase in the number of electrics available to buy.

Fortune Magazine GM CoverBut I emphasize the word “potentially” for a reason.  Though “30 electrics by 2030” sounds impressive, the reality may look a bit different.  “30 electrics” sounds like “30 different vehicles,” but the fact is that GM frequently makes vehicles with multiple trim packages, and defines each package as a different vehicle.  So a single vehicle with 5 trim packages becomes 5 vehicles.  You can see where we’re going with this: “30 vehicles” could be 10 vehicles with 3 trim packages each, or 5 vehicles with 6 trim packages, or 3 vehicles with 10 trim packages each, or any combination thereof.

In 2019, GM sold a single truck in 8 different packages. From Motor Biscuit:

GM’s C1XX platform, better known as C1 underpins eight (so far) GM SUVs. At least one can be found in each division’s offerings. That’s Chevy, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC trucks. It has variations engineered into it so that both wheelbases and even track can vary, besides the obligatory sheetmetal and interior variations.

Buick EnclaveDoes this sound underhanded?  Yes.  Does it sound like something GM wouldn’t stoop to?  No, when you consider GM has pulled stunts like this for decades.  During the 1980s, when the need for vehicles with better gas mileage surfaced, GM (along with Ford and Chrysler) followed the federal guidelines to make fuel efficient cars to improve their fleet mileage average… and they did build their fuel efficient cars to supplement their fleet.  But when it came to selling, GM (and the rest) heavily marketed their inefficient SUVs instead of the efficient cars, and made a huge profit off cheap-to-manufacture trucks with Corinthian leather interiors, while the cars sat in storage lots hidden behind the dealerships.  National fuel use dropped, but not nearly as much as the government wanted; automakers were able to say, “We did our part, like we were told to… it’s the public’s fault for not buying the fuel efficient cars we provided.”

So don’t think GM, and every other car manufacturer, doesn’t have it in them to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes if they think they can get away with it and make more profit; after all, that’s what they’re in business to do.  And because of that, it’s really hard to say how many real options for electric cars might be available by 2030, or even 2040 or 2050.

Long story short, consumers will have to keep a sharp eye on how manufacturers make good on their claims for future electric vehicles, and be prepared to shout out if it looks like we’re being short-changed by shenanigans. GM may lead many other manufacturers, but those other manufacturers may match GM’s shenanigans; and as a result, we may be looking at a reality of far fewer electrics than they would have us believe.