DETROIT — China has said it will eventually ban gasoline-powered cars. California may be moving in the same direction. That pressure has set off a scramble by the world’s car companies to embrace electric vehicles.
On Monday, General Motors, the U.S.’ largest automaker, staked its claim to leadership. Outlining a fundamental shift in its vision of the industry, it announced plans for 20 new all-electric models by 2023, including two within the next 18 months.
GM’s announcement came a day before a long-scheduled investor presentation by Ford Motor Co. that was also expected to emphasize electric models. After the GM news emerged, Ford let loose with its own announcement, saying it would add 13 electrified models over the next several years, with a five-year investment of $4.5 billion.
In the first eight months of 2017, even with federal tax incentives, Americans purchased only about 60,000 battery-powered electric vehicles, and about the same number of plug-in hybrid models, according to Hybridcars.com. That amounts to 1 percent of the market.
But the upstart automaker Tesla has proved the potential of electric vehicles to generate excitement, with its first mass-market offering, the Model 3 sedan, attracting $1,000 deposits from hundreds of thousands of potential buyers. (It is also showing the challenges of getting the technology to scale, announcing Monday that it produced only 260 Model 3s in the third quarter, “less than anticipated due to production bottlenecks.”)
The announcements by GM and Ford follow pledges by the German automakers Volkswagen and Daimler to build hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles in the coming years, and the decision by Volvo, the Chinese-owned Swedish luxury brand, to convert its entire lineup to either electric cars or hybrid vehicles that are powered by both batteries and gas.
The accelerated pace of development also reflects the symbiotic relationship between battery-powered cars and another technological frontier; auto companies are tying their electric-car plans to lofty goals of building fleets of autonomous vehicles for ride-hailing services.
Investors reacted positively to GM’s announcement, with its shares tacking on more than 4 percent in Monday’s trading.