What's Next for GM's Other EV/AV Plant?
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.
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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"Orion Assembly, home to a sparse Chevrolet product lineup...." Understatement of the year, so far.