There were 7 upgrades for Americans (BARs, grenades, stickies, demo charges, supply yard upgrades x2, Sherman upgun) and 12 for Wehrmacht (4 vet options x 3 levels per option). PE's upgrades were somewhere between those two. The cheapest
upgrades in terms of fuel costs were stickies at 25 fuel and vet 1 upgrades at 30 fuel.
Compare to CoH2. Soviets have 3 upgrades (healing, Molotovs, AT grenades) one of which has no fuel cost, and USF has 3 upgrades, soon to be 2 (grenades, bazookas, BARs). OKW and Wehrmacht have 0 upgrades. Furthermore, the most expensive
upgrades in terms of fuel costs are USF grenades at 25 fuel and Soviet Molotovs/AT grenades at 20 fuel.
Not only are there far less options for upgrades in CoH2, those options are also all as expensive as the cheapest
options in CoH1. Keep in mind as well that this is CoH2, where units and tech tiers are far more expensive than in CoH1, which makes the decision to purchase these upgrades even less consequential since they are far less expensive relative to other tech options.
I've written a lot about why this is such a problem
, but the summary is that sufficiently meaningful global upgrades exponentially increase the number of options available to players by forcing really interesting decisions about timings and opportunity costs.
CoH2's way around this deficiency is, as you said, to pile on commanders. But the problem with throwing variety into commanders is you can only choose three per game, and once you've selected one you're locked in. In CoH1, with the exception of some niche strategies, the game's strategic variety came from its core units, and commanders acted as supplements to those core units. Therefore you were able to be very flexible regardless of your commander choice because you had an interesting and strategically viable combination of units and upgrades to choose from no matter what. In CoH2, there's a lot of powerful units in commanders, but the core units are relatively bland and there's no proper upgrades to add variety. Therefore commanders dictate strategy, because there's so little flexibility possible once they've been locked in.
CoH1's upgrades made that game what it is, just like CoH2's commanders make it what it is. I personally think, for the reasons above, that the CoH1 approach yielded more interesting and dynamic play. I also see no reason why that extra element couldn't be added to CoH2, as I feel it would drastically improve the game.