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by Julia Pyper
December 10, 2018

California hit a major milestone last month: 500,000 electric vehicle sales, which represents half of all EVs sold in America to date. 

So it's no surprise that EVs were a popular topic at the recent 2018 L.A. Auto Show. And these were just any old plug-in cars. Automakers showcased off-road electric trucks, fully autonomous "smart cars," and technology designed to turn EVs into money-making batteries on wheels. 

Here are three major tech innovation takeaways from the show. 

Go big (and electric) or go home

There’s no denying that sport utility vehicles are currently driving growth in the global auto market. And there’s no denying that this trend is bad for the global climate.

According to LMC Automotive, SUVs made up just 15 percent of light vehicle sales worldwide in 2013. This year, they will account for 35 percent of sales. In the U.S., SUVs had a 32 percent share in 2013. By 2020, they are projected to cross the 50 percent mark.

Automakers are making major strategic changes based on this outlook. Ford Motor Co. announced earlier this year that it is phasing out production and sales of sedans in North America, and General Motors revealed last month that it is ending production of six sedans in its North American line-up.

Some industry watchers say this strategy is designed to exploit a loophole in U.S. fuel economy regulations that makes bigger vehicles more profitable. And it may well be. But arguably the real environmental test whether or not automakers align their SUV-making strategy with their EV-making one.

Ford, for instance, is planning to launch a 300-mile electric SUV at the end of 2019, but GM has yet to tease production of a larger-scale electric vehicle. Other automakers, meanwhile, have been much quicker to embrace these trends.

Some of the biggest buzz at the L.A. Auto Show was around automotive startup Rivian, which introduced an all-electric “adventure” pick-up truck, the R1T, and an all-electric SUV, the R1S. Both vehicles will offer more than 400 miles of range, off-road driving capability and autonomous highway driving.

The spacious vehicles also come with a host of other special features that are designed to make them appealing as aspirational purchases, and not just eco-friendly options. For instance, the truck comes with 110-volt outlets in the bed, a flashlight integrated into the driver door, and a middle truck (munk?) for additional storage.

“There are a bunch of interesting little Easter eggs throughout the vehicle, all focused on making it easier to take on life's adventures,” said Rivian founder and CEO RJ Scaringe, in an interview.

When asked why he decided to skip the internal combustion engine and jump right to making large-scale electric vehicles (no easy task), Scaringe pointed to getting ahead of the competition with a product that is unique, and comes with no compromises on comfort or the environment.

“I'm someone who loves to be outdoors,” he said. “What always bothered me is…I'd be driving in something that makes the thing I am going to enjoy worse. Meaning it makes the environment worse. So we wanted something that you can simultaneously take your friends or your family and all of your gear and take it to the outdoors, meaning you can drive off on the trail. It can do all those types of activities.”

“We see in the market today that a lot of people are struggling with this as well, and may end up having two very different types of vehicles. You will see a customer with a Jeep sitting next to, in the same parking lot, a BMW i3,” he said. “So we said, 'Let's allow them to not have that compromise.'”