While the allure of driverless technology played in the back of everyone's minds at the 2018 New York International Auto Show this week, one of the main underlying themes of the event was undoubtedly electrification.
Almost every automaker that presented at the auto show's media day Wednesday, March 28, perhaps with the deliberate exception of Maserati, made an effort to show plans of offering fully electric vehicles or a greater variety of hybrid models in the next few years.
Toyota Motor Corp. (TM - Get Report) , the U.S. market leader in hybrid vehicles, stole the show with its new-and-improved 2019 RAV4. But the company also debuted a 2019 hatchback Corolla that has the potential to be hybridized.
Ford Motor Co. (F - Get Report) and General Motors Co. (GM - Get Report) did not unveil any new electric or hybrid concepts at the New York Auto Show, but both companies' top executives have been vocal about making up for lost ground in these areas in the coming years.
In fact, at a recent Ford event in Detroit, the company's executive vice president and president of global markets Jim Farley said Ford intends to surpass Toyota as the number one hybrid seller in the U.S. by 2021.
"We're also going big on hybrids," Farley said. "Every time we launch a [vehicle] in North America our intention is to have a hybrid -- that's a hybrid, plug-in hybrid or -- in some cases -- both."
Meanwhile, Volkswagen AG showed off its new concept SUV, the Atlas Cross Sport vehicle -- a 5-passenger version of its 7-passenger Atlas SUV is designed as a plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle with 355 horsepower and 26 miles of battery range before it uses gasoline exclusively. Although revealed as a concept vehicle, Volkswagen said it plans to launch a production version in 2019 and manufacture the model at its Chattanooga, Tenn., plant. Conversely, Volkswagen said its other intriguing concept vehicle unveiled in New York this week, the Tanoak truck, may never reach production in the U.S.
"VW is clearly serious about entering the truck segment, and the fact that they're saying this is a pure concept is a disappointingly cautious move," said Alistair Weaver, editor in chief of car research firm Edmunds, in an emailed statement.
Taking many industry followers by surprise, Hyundai Motor Co. introduced the new Kona EV, an electric subcompact crossover that will boast a range of 250 miles of range on a full charge, topping the Chevrolet Bolt, which maxes out at 238 miles.
Luxury brand makers also were not silent on the electrification theme this week. In interviews with TheStreet, Mercedes-Benz representatives echoed statements made by the company's CEO Dieter Zetsche late last year: Mercedes-Benz will offer electric versions of all its models by 2022.
And Jaguar Land Rover Ltd. revealed the Jaguar I-PACE crossover, which the company's executive director of corporate and strategy Hanno Kirner said "might actually be the best electric car in the world." The I-PACE has a 240-mile range and is the first premium brand full-electric car consumers can order, Kirner said in an interview with TheStreet.
One luxury brand that has been largely absent on the electric vehicle front is GM's Cadillac. At the auto show, the company focused on the launch of the XT4, and at the separate Bank of America Merrill Lynch New York Auto Summit on Wednesday, GM CEO Mary Barra said Cadillac will focus on aggressively revamping its vehicle portfolio, but made no mention of electrification.
Perhaps the most flashy of all electrification directives reiterated this week, though, came from Volkswagen's sports car group Porsche AG.
Porsche touted its newest sports car, the 2019 911 GT3 RS, an electric-green version of which roared out of the tunnel at the auto show and will start selling in the U.S. this fall at $188,550.
But Porsche North America CEO Klaus Zellmer also told a crowd of journalists and industry so-called VIPs at the show Wednesday that Porsche will focus on three powertrains in 2018, internal combustion, hybrid and fully-electric.
Porsche's Mission E concept car was first revealed in 2015, but is expected to begin production in 2019, Zellmer said. The car will feature two electric motors and is expected to compete with Tesla Inc.'s (TSLA - Get Report) Model S, which is among the quickest cars in the world.
But regardless of the powertrain, Porsche refuses to lose its flair or style, Zellmer asserted.
"No matter what, a Porsche will always be a Porsche."
--Anders Keitz contributed reporting.