By on January 27, 2020


General Motors has tapped its no-longer-slated-for-mothballs Detroit-Hamtramck facility to spawn the automaker’s looming EV tsunami, but it isn’t the only Southeast Michigan plant with a forward-thinking mandate.

Orion Assembly, home to a sparse Chevrolet product lineup, is already building electric and autonomous vehicles. While it’s a much less glamorous operation than what GM has in store for Detroit-Hamtramck, it’s still a significant part of the General’s EV and AV offensive, with growth on the horizon.

Currently, the Orion plant builds three vehicles: the endangered Sonic subcompact, the Bolt EV, and autonomous Bolts bound for testing by GM’s Cruise self-driving division. Eventually, those Bolt AVs will enter a Cruise ride-hailing fleet, one which was supposed to get up and running last year.

The division’s first ground-up AV, the Origin, will call Detroit-Hamtramck home, starting production not long after the automaker’ electric pickup goes into production in late 2021. That gives the Bolt AV time to prep the public for driverless journeys. The automaker pumped $100 million into the plant in March 2018 to fuel Bolt AV production.

The Bolt itself, which saw a range boost for 2020, will continue onward. It’s hoped that a driving radius increased to 259 miles will garner more buyers than the Bolt saw last year (GM’s 2019 Bolt sales fell 9 percent, dragged down by a dismal fourth quarter that saw sales of the subcompact EV hatch drop 47 percent).

The Sonic, already invisible to the buying public and becoming more transparent with each passing day, is not expected to survive the year. That will free up capacity for Orion’s next act: production of an electric Chevrolet crossover (Bolt EUV) underpinned by “an advanced version of the same vehicle architecture” found beneath the Bolt, according to GM. Last March saw the automaker earmark $300 million for the effort, which is expected to create 400 jobs.

Image: GM

While the Bolt’s platform won’t be relegated to just these two vehicles, it remains to be seen whether American consumers will see a third model drop. Chinese buyers, however, can expect the Bolt-based Buick Velite 7. Photos recently hit the internet of the small crossover bound for China for the 2021 model year, and they happen to show the same vehicle reportedly shown to an American focus group in 2017. The automaker claims the upcoming Orion product will be a Chevrolet, but is a Buick version for Yank buyers really out of the cards? Time will tell if the potential overlap was deemed to be too much.

The Bolt EUV, or whatever GM ends up calling it, is slated for an introduction next year. At that time, GM will be gearing up production of the first of Detroit-Hamtramck’s many EVs, starting with Hummer, by GMC. More EV trucks and SUVs are to follow, many of them in the form of Cadillacs previewed in last year’s crossover rendering. Expect the first of those out in 2022, riding atop the company’s new BEV3 architecture.

As BEV3 is said to be capable of underpinning a range of vehicle sizes, including small crossovers, it would seem that Orion’s near-future output will be relegated to Bolt-based vehicles.

[Images: General Motors]

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17 Comments on “What’s Next for GM’s Other EV/AV Plant?...”

  • avatar

    It looks like anyone who doesn’t want a SUV/CUV will have to buy an EV, whether we want one or not. With two factories, there won’t be any new cars from GM, Ford has already dropped new car models, and FCA has already switched to trucks and Jeeps. I doubt the PSA/FCA merger will result in any compact cars shipped or built here. I wonder where all the electricity will come from?

    • 0 avatar

      “whether we want one or not.”

      That’s the trend, established by the previous administration.

      However, not everyone will want such a limited-range vehicle and real world buyers will ultimately decide how many of these electric buggies will be sold. To date, not many in a 17m SAAR.

      What I’m hoping for is that the current administration will do away with any and all incentives that favor EVs, allow for thirstier engines like more V8s, V10s, and even V12s.

      We’ve got plenty of oil, no need to conserve oil. America is the top energy exporting nation on the planet!

      Allow people to buy what they want based on what they can afford, even if that is a good old pickup truck with a V10.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    GM and Ford need to *not* be thinking “can we do this?”, but rather “how can we do this profitably?”.

    Tesla has shown that EV profitability requires massive scale to be barely achievable. The Model 3 outsold the Bolt 10:1 last year, and even the Model X outsold the Bolt, with the Model S close behind the Bolt.

    So if GM is going to come out with the Bolt EUV, etc, how will they ever achieve sufficient sales volume to break even on the product? And if they do, where is the “Gigafactory” they’ll need to produce the batteries at a cost that beats Tesla’s battery cost?

    Not to pick on just GM – the same questions apply to any EV pretender, especially those who declare that __% of their product line will be electric by 2025 or whatever.

    Building an interesting product is not enough to keep these workers busy until the next union contract is due. These products need to be viable in the market.

    • 0 avatar

      As much as it may pain people on this site to comprehend, GM has way more mfg expertise than Tesla and will be able to achieve profitability on similar products way easier than Tesla ever could. Comparing GM to Tesla is truly an apples to oranges scenario. Tesla spends much more time, effort and $$ on basic elements of auto manufacturing simply due to the fact they are in no way as mature of an organization as GM. That works both ways sometimes, but still very different situations.

      Whether you like one over another, they are in no way similar.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        “GM has way more mfg expertise than Tesla and will be able to achieve profitability on similar products way easier than Tesla ever could”

        If this was true, GM would have fielded a profitable “Tesla killer” years ago. Same for all the other big mfrs: VAG, Ford, BMW, M-B. So far, all have produced low-volume money-losing duds without the specs to match a Tesla – not a single one of them.

      • 0 avatar

        ttiguy, GM has manufacturing expertise which GM does not utilize in GM’s existing plants.

        (Agreed that Tesla has made some rookie mistakes.)

    • 0 avatar

      Take it with a grain of salt, but from where I sit, the Chevy Bolt seems to compete more directly with the Chevy Sonic than it does with the Tesla Model 3. It’s sort of a dour little hatchback. The Bolt has twice the power, costs twice as much up front, and homeowners get to fuel it at home. Only, in the world of dour little hatchbacks, those aren’t very good selling points.

      On a utilitarian basis, the Model 3 matches up pretty well to a Focus hatchback. But the Tesla is worth much more than that in consumers’ minds. The extra performance of the Tesla is really unnecessary to the typical *$20,000 car buyer*, but it adds value in the mind of the *Tesla* buyer.

      Tesla is a hot brand right now. I think emotion is more of a factor in car-buying decisions than people would like to admit, even for a Tesla. Maybe especially for a Tesla.

      Tesla is stealing sales from many models across the board, but it seems that quite a lot of those stolen sales are from entry-level luxury and sports cars. Tesla is chasing the fat wallets, while GM is chasing the skinny ones.

      The Model 3 can undercut the German brands because those badges are already over-priced.

      I think GM might have been better off founding an *entirely NEW brand* for their electric vehicles. Production advantages may not be enough to offset GM’s marketing disadvantages.

      • 0 avatar
        SCE to AUX

        FWIW, I did cross-shop the Bolt, Leaf 2.0, and Model 3 before settling on the Ioniq EV.

        You make a good point about ‘fat’ vs ‘skinny’ wallets, but the research shows that all EVs tend to go toward ‘fat’ wallets – not just Teslas. And if that’s true, I don’t know how any mfr chasing skinny wallets will ever make any money doing so, since even cheaper EVs cost so much to build.

        As for battery costs – they are not evenly distributed. Tesla’s are the lowest, which puts everyone else at a disadvantage until they have a mfg breakthrough or a jump in volume.

        • 0 avatar

          I also cross-shopped Bolt, Leaf, Model 3, and Kona EV. We wanted a city-sized, mid-priced EV.
          For me, Bolt handily dispatched Leaf and Kona, and the decision ended up being between Bolt and Model 3.

          The Bolt won on the merits. Price was part of that, but only part of it. Your “dour little hatchback” is my car that fits in any parking spot, anywhere, and has an interface vastly more pleasant to use than the Model 3’s stupidly placed and distractingly bright laptop screen. On pockmarked city streets, the Model 3’s ride is also pretty brutal, even on the base 18s. But both cars share the same biggest flaw, no doubt attributable to high battery costs: aggressively cheap and nasty interior materials.

        • 0 avatar

          If more Model 3 buyers sat down and analyzed their purchases in a rational way, it’s possible that many of them would choose the Ioniq, or the Bolt, or the Kona, or the Leaf, or even a hybrid.

          I respect what Tesla has done to actually improve the state of the art in EVs. They didn’t invent lithium cells or reluctance motors, but they are certainly pushing the technology forward. The other automakers are finding themselves playing catch-up now in those areas.

          On the other hand, I worry that Tesla is so closely tied to being fashionable. If Tesla wasn’t fashionable, it might be selling in Bolt-like numbers, and that would obviously put Tesla in trouble. This puts Tesla in a position where catering to “everyman” risks the very core identity of the brand.

          On the other other hand, makers like Chevy are stuck in a no-man’s-land where they made a “practical EV” and it’s not selling in volume. Unless government mandates hit ICEs really hard, GM needs something exciting to bring in buyers. But it’s hard to rationally justify building an irrational EV with huge battery capacity and power, and a new brand to go along with it.

          In this context, Ford’s Mustang gamble makes more sense. Ford’s gambling with the only hot brand it has left, but that may be the only way to save its EV program. Ford had to choose between raising the stakes in this way, or settling for being a manufacturer of a few SUVs with hybrid options.

          Dal20402, I fully agree that the Bolt has a more rational and functional interior than the Model 3. The Bolt’s a good car in many ways. It just seems disadvantaged in its market positioning.

  • avatar

    Where are the vehicles? The Bolt is in its fourth model year. The Bolt EUV should have been here a year ago, and by now there ought to be a compact CUV with an AWD version of the Bolt powertrain on the way.

    I love my own Bolt, but it doesn’t feel like GM is leveraging the advantage they got by developing the Bolt and Volt early.

    • 0 avatar

      “…After more than a century peddling vehicles that pollute the atmosphere, General Motors is ending its relationship with gasoline and diesel. This morning, the American automotive giant announced that it is working toward an all-electric, zero-emissions future. That starts with two new, fully electric models next year—then at least 18 more by 2023….”

      • 0 avatar

        China is going to be out of the game for probably the next 18 months, and nobody stateside buys EVs without a Tesla badge.

        I’ll be very curious to see how the pandemic affects SAIC. Both events at the same time may be the perfect storm for GM.

        • 0 avatar

          “nobody stateside buys EVs without a Tesla badge.”

          They don’t do horribly in the segments they’re in, but they’re not in the right segments yet. I think we’ll see a lot more sales once there is an EV that is a straight-across competitor for a RAV4.

  • avatar

    I still think that for any company not named Tesla that PHEVs are the smarter play over the next decade.

  • avatar
    schmitt trigger

    “Orion Assembly, home to a sparse Chevrolet product lineup….”

    Understatement of the year, so far.

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