GM Lays It Out: Profitable EVs, Everywhere It Can Slot 'em

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
gm lays it out profitable evs everywhere it can slot em

General Motors offered up a peak at its electric vehicle strategy in Warren, Michigan Wednesday, pulling the sheet back on a product plan that seeks quick profits as well as CO2 reduction.

Underpinning GM’s drive for domestic EV supremacy is a piece of modular architecture and a new battery type that should proliferate through divisions and segments in the coming years. The company claims these vehicles will not be the equivalent of the defunct, unloved Fiat 500e, a compliance vehicle that late Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne once warned consumers not to buy. Despite the EV game carrying steep costs and significant risk, GM’s not in the business of losing money if it can help it.

Oh, and that upcoming Cadillac crossover now has a name.

While we can’t give you a full rundown of future bodystyles and nameplates (it’s likely even GM brass aren’t exactly sure how far the company will take this), there is info to share on that. First, let’s look at the bones of these future models.

The platform is a third-generation modular unit, designed to underpin as many vehicles as possible and thus leverage economies of scale to pare down costs. Propulsion, part of which is a new proprietary battery design GM calls “Ultium,” aims for a minimum of complexity and maxed-out flexibility. The battery tech allows GM and its joint venture partner, LG Chem, to either stack the pouch-shaped cells or place them in line, allowing for a broad range of battery sizes and shapes.

Those cells are low in costly (and contentious) cobalt, and the automaker believes it can soon have them for less than $100 a kWh, helping drop sticker prices even further on the consumer end.

“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,” said CEO Mary Barra, adding that the platform/powertrain combo is capable of delivering everything from compacts to pickups.

This, of course, is partly what happens when you don’t score access to Rivian’s skateboard platform. That said, a single in-house platform that can find its way beneath enough vehicles is a better option. You’re then dependent only on yourself and your customers.

Battery capacity could range from 50 kWh for cheap, small EVs to 200 kWh for big, luxurious SUVs and trucks.

“Motors designed in-house will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and performance all-wheel drive applications,” the automaker stated. “Ultium-powered EVs are designed for Level 2 and DC fast charging. Most will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200kW fast-charging capability while our truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350 kW fast-charging capability.”

The General has already teased its upcoming GMC Hummer electric pickup — a vehicle that appears to be as big as it is brash. The volume of electrons needed to move its bulk — and deliver the model’s promised performance — will be immense.

In describing the work of “thousands” of GM engineers, designers, and scientists, GM President Mark Reuss stated, “They are on the cusp of delivering a profitable EV business that can satisfy millions of customers.”

Moving forward, GM plans to utilize as many existing facilities and as much existing tooling as possible to streamline the effort, with revenue on the side collected by licensing its battery tech to other automakers.

As for actual product, here’s the gist: Chevrolet, Buick, Cadillac, and GMC will all field EVs, with the first of the new crop arriving this year. GM claims a “new version” of the Chevrolet Bolt will arrive late this year, with the Bolt EUV — a small crossover — tagging along in the summer of 2021. That crossover will become the first non-Cadillac model to offer the automaker’s recently upgraded Super Cruise advanced driver-assist system.

By 2023, some 22 GM models will play host to the system.

While the new platform is destined for a slew of vehicles, one of those products won’t carry a driver. The Cruise Origin, a self-driving passenger pod built by GM’s autonomous division and revealed earlier this year, will carry both the platform and the new batteries.

Next month, GM pulls the wraps off its Lyriq SUV — the crossover-like vehicle first teased at last year’s Detroit auto show. Expect a reveal at the New York International Auto Show, assuming the rampaging coronavirus doesn’t see the show scrapped. A month after that — May 20th, to be exact — comes the public debut of the GMC Hummer EV, bound for production at Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly in the fall of 2021.

Suffice it to say a busy year lies ahead for GM.

[Images: General Motors]

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  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 06, 2020

    @highdesertcat--Maybe GM and Tesla will prove me wrong and do a joint venture in EVs. Both need to put aside their huge egos and look at the benefits that the a joint venture would do for both. If GM is spending the money to redo their Hamtramck plant to make EVs it would make sense to utilize any of the additional capacity of that plant.

    • Highdesertcat Highdesertcat on Mar 06, 2020

      Jeff S, currently EVs are a minuscule fraction of annual vehicle sales. But that should change as time progresses and battery tech improves. The state of the US economy is also a huge driving factor for the demand for EVs. The better and more prosperous the US economy, the more disposable income, and more retirees willing to spend some of that accumulated deferred spending on a toy. The difference between men and boys...... Hey, just the fact that moi, moi!, is looking to buy a Rivian R1T, speaks volumes. So, somewhere, somehow, automakers have to collude amongst themselves to supply that future rising demand for EVs, as a third, fourth or fifth vehicle in a two-driver household.

  • Jeff S Jeff S on Mar 06, 2020

    @highdesertcat--the Hamtramck plant will have millions spent on it to adapt it to make EVs and since it is being adapted to make EVs it would make sense to manufacturer other EVs. Agree that the annual sales for EVs in the next few years will be minuscule and I will be one of the late adopters of EVs. I don't plan on buying any vehicle in the next 10 years unless some unforeseen incident happens like one of my vehicles gets totalled and then I might choose to buy a used late model vehicle if it is a lot less money. I believe that even if Trump gets re-elected that eventually the Democrats will win the Presidency and that the legislative branch will eventually change which will cause more regulations on ICE vehicles. Eventually we might all be driving EVs and that is why I am not that anxious to invest a lot of money in a new vehicle besides putting 5k or less on a vehicle per year. I am not going to lose any sleep over this but I just don't want to invest a lot of money on an ICE vehicle if it is regulated out of existence. I would just prefer to wait and see what happens.

  • Inside Looking Out In June 1973, Leonid Brezhnev arrived in Washington for his second summit meeting with President Richard Nixon. Knowing of the Soviet leader’s fondness for luxury automobiles, Nixon gave him a shiny Lincoln Continental. Brezhnev was delighted with the present and insisted on taking a spin around Camp David, speeding through turns while the president nervously asked him to slow down.
  • Bobby D'Oppo Great sound and smooth power delivery in a heavier RWD or AWD vehicle is a nice blend, but current V8 pickup trucks deliver an unsophisticated driving experience. I think a modern full-size pickup could be very well suited to a manual transmission.In reality, old school, revvy atmo engines pair best with manual transmissions because it's so rewarding to keep them in the power band on a winding road. Modern turbo engines have flattened the torque curve and often make changing gears feel more like a chore.
  • Chuck Norton For those worried about a complex power train-What vehicle doesn't have one? I drive a twin turbo F-150 (3.5) Talk about complexity.. It seems reliability based on the number of F-150s sold is a non-issue. As with many other makes/models. I mean how many operations are handle by micro today's vehicles?
  • Ravenuer The Long Island Expressway.
  • Kwik_Shift A nice stretch of fairly remote road that would be great for test driving a car's potential, rally style, is Flinton Road off of Highway 41 in Ontario. Twists/turns/dips/rises. Just hope a deer doesn't jump out at you. Also Highway 60 through Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. Great scenery with lots of hills.