The Electric Future Is Now
Some would rather not acknowledge the transformation, but companies like GM are leading it.
Although it is a fact that General Motors makes a significant amount of money off of each and every full-size pickup (Silverado, Sierra) and SUV (Escalade, Yukon, Suburban, Tahoe) it makes—and we’re talking the kind of money that you’d put in the bed of a full-size, it is also a fact that the company is committed to transforming itself to one that is going to be offering a full suite of electric vehicles. Some people talk about “electrified” vehicles, which are hybrids of one sort or another, ranging from 48-volt systems to plug-ins. But while GM dabbled in that space, it has decided that it will simply jump over what could be considered an intermediate step and go full-on electric.
GM has decided that it will simply jump over what could be considered an intermediate step and go full-on electric.
GM’s Year of Commitments
In July GM announced a collaboration with EVgo, the operator of the nation’s largest public fast-charging network. The goal: tripling the number of fast chargers, adding more than 2,700 over the next five years.
In August the Cadillac LYRIQ, an EV SUV, was revealed and the Chevy Bolt EUV, an electric crossover, was teased.
In September GM announced it would be building the Nikola Badger pickup, which will have an electric powertrain (as well as one powered with a fuel cell, which GM also has some serious resources to apply).
Also in September, it announced employee pricing for Uber drivers who buy a Bolt EV (and a 20% discount on accessories); the action was taken to help boost EVs in the ride-hailing space.
It announced the development, with Analog Devices, of a wireless battery management system, which will help quickly scale the company’s Ultium battery system for an array of vehicles by reducing the amount of engineering needed per battery/vehicle.
And before September was over, it announced the Ultium drive family, five interchangeable drive units and three electric motors.
In October GM announced it is investing $2.2-billion in the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant to transform it into Factory ZERO, a plant dedicated to EVs, including the Cruise Origin (which will also happen to be an autonomous vehicle). . .and the GMC HUMMER EV, which it also revealed in October.
There was another factory announcement and a big-dollar investment: $2-billion at the Spring Hill, Tennessee, complex to add the capability to manufacture the Cadillac LYRIQ.
And while not in the billion-dollar category, it announced $800-million for supplier tooling and other projects for the HUMMER EV and the Cruise Origin; $3.5-million at the Orion Assembly Plant for the Cruise Origin, and $750,000 at the GM Brownstown battery facility for the Origin.
All that in just four months.
GM Accepts the Electric Challenge
In March 2020 GM CEO Mary Barra, speaking in the historic Design Dome at the GM Tech Center, said, “Our team accepted the challenge to transform product development at GM and position our company for an all-electric future. What we have done is build a multi-brand, multi-segment EV strategy with economies of scale that rival our full-size truck business with much less complexity and even more flexibility.”
Yes, Barra and her colleagues know what those trucks mean to the company. They also know what the future looks like, and it will be more electric than combusted.
While there is consternation when the people mention things like reducing reliance on petroleum—not just imported oil, but oil, period. But this is something that is going to happen.
According to the International Council on Clean Transportation, in 2025 Norway calls for zero-emissions light vehicles starting in 2025. By 2030 Demark plans to stop sales of new gasoline and diesel cars. Iceland will stop the registration of gasoline and diesel cars after 2030, the year that Ireland will ban the sale of new fossil-fuel powered cars, and when the Netherlands will require zero-emissions passenger cars. The U.K. had planned to phase out the sale of new gas and diesel cars by 2040 (yes, including hybrids), but it moved that forward to 2035. France? 2040. The same for Spain. Japan has announced plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, which will mean electric and hydrogen vehicles (as well as a significant transformation of other elements of the social infrastructure).
California, which is a massive automotive market, plans to ban the sale of gasoline-powered light vehicles by 2035. To put that into context know that according to the California New Car Dealers Association in 2019 there were 1,892,672 new vehicles sold in California, which is more than 10% of all vehicles sold last year in the U.S.
It is no longer a case of “if” there is going to be a transformation of the auto industry in terms of alternatives to the liquid fuels that have so long powered the cars and trucks. It is a matter of “when.” And this when isn’t some far-off future. It is happening.
Companies like GM certainly see it. And is working to make it happen.
The engineers at Munro & Associates have taken a perfectly sound BMW i3 and taken it apart. Completely apart. And they are impressed with what they’ve discovered about how the EV is engineered.
The historic plant has built—and is building—a lot of cars in its 70-year run of commercial vehicle production. Today, with the e-Golf and the GTE, it is making what are arguably the most-advanced Volkswagens out there.
Dan Nicholson is vice president of General Motors Global Propulsion Systems, the organization that had been “GM Powertrain” for 24 years.