By on June 16, 2020

 

Ren Cen. GM

After saying that it will take “years and decades” before General Motors can effectively transition into a company focused primarily on electric vehicles, plenty of outlets (including ours) accused CEO Marry Barra of lowering expectations. She held another press conference this week to set everyone straight, letting the world know GM will perpetually be at the forefront of the green movement.

The 20 EV models planned for launch by 2023 are still coming. “We have a steady drumbeat of EVs coming out across segments to appeal to a variety of customers,” Barra explained.

She then added that internal combustion vehicles will remain a staple of GM’s lineup for the foreseeable future. Oh, and its first driverless vehicle is coming out in 2025 — instead of 2019, as originally planned. “I definitely think it will happen within the next five years. Our Cruise team is continuing to develop technology so it’s safer than a human driver. I think you’ll see it clearly within five years,” she said in a recent interview with Dave Rubinstein

Here’s the thing I can’t stand about corporate messaging — it’s largely devoid of any true meaning. You can become a green automaker just by nature of having said so. Action is irrelevant. Anything you want to be, you can just say you are, then figure the rest out later. But you cannot, under any circumstances, commit yourself to taking a nuanced approach on an issue or admitting that you still have questions or concerns. Instead, change your stance as you try to predict which way the wind will blow.

Like most manufacturers, General Motors recognized that it’ll be some time before EVs become the dominant mode of transportation. But it also echoed the popular mantra that it was evolving into mobility firm (meaningless) while continuing to tout its greener ambitions. For example, in 2016 GM said it would generate or source all electrical power required for operations from renewable sources by 2050.

More of a loose framework than a promise, the plan allowed the company to virtue signal to the world while giving itself plenty of time to dissolve the project as it’s funneled down the ever-expanding memory hole. While this is a trend that seems pervasive in all aspects of society, corporations seem to be the best at it — and they’re going hog wild in regard to new technologies. Barra is only taking heat this month because she’s put herself out in front — though the entirety of the industry plays this game on an incredibly regular basis.

It’s understandable if you only think about the short-term implications. Shareholders never want to hear about a retreat or that something hasn’t gone according to plan. They don’t want delays in future business prospects anymore than environmental activists want to hear that a green initiative has been postponed. Yet this only encourages corporate messaging to shift even further into the language of appeasement and has made sense-making substantially more difficult.

Lacking a clear and consistent message also undercuts any genuine strides made in environmental sustainability, too. Despite GM (and the industry as a whole) looking like it’s not nearly as eager to electrify as it did a year ago, the brand still pledged $20 billion for electric and autonomous vehicle programs through 2025. It also dumped billions into the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant in order to transform the facility into an EV manufacturing mecca. That’s to say nothing of its new battery partnerships or that it was one of the first automakers to deliver an all-electric vehicle that didn’t require a second mortgage.

Unfortunately, years spent reading press releases and discussing matters with public relations reps has made me paranoid of promises and eager to pick at weak points in a brand’s aural defense. No one ever talks about financial setbacks or the job losses the industry will confront as manufacturers transition to electric vehicles with less labor-intensive powertrains. No one talks about the severe problems the industry faces when it comes to producing the raw materials necessary for assembling EVs, or the ethical complications. It’s always going great, you just need to be patient as the goalpost is quietly moved back another 20 yards.

In the end, it doesn’t matter. CEOs can say whatever they want as the companies they head take whatever trajectory they deem necessary. I am absolutely positive Tesla is happy to keep the lion’s share of the EV market and understand mainstream brands need to ride the line between what sells now and what may sell later. Automakers can go full bore into electrification or stick with gas burners forever. It doesn’t matter to me as long as it’s a good product. I just wish they’d level with us. If a company doesn’t think the market will be there to support EVs in 2030, it should probably just say so, rather than make us parse though coded language to get a rough idea what the real plan is.

[Image: GM]

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31 Comments on “Editorial Rant: GM CEO Says Automaker Will Still Lead Electrification, Autonomy...”


  • avatar
    R Henry

    “Anything you want to be, you can just say you are, then figure the rest out later.”

    –This is contemporary Western cultural reality. Objective truth has become irrelevent, all that matters is correctness of your narrative.

    Bruce Jenner can declare himself a woman, and we must believe it. GM can declare itself a GREEN manufacturer of autonomous vehicles, and we are supposed to believe that too.

  • avatar
    Crosley

    Like they led in electrification with the Bolt and Volt. Anytime in the modern era GM has tried to lead, they fail spectacularly.

    GM will mostly be crappy Chinese golf carts with a smattering of full size trucks and SUVs that they actually profit from, but are embarrassed to admit they sell.

    GM thinks virtue signaling will pay the bills. It won’t, I guess the company just needs to die (again).

    • 0 avatar
      indi500fan

      When Biden is POTUS and GM goes Ch 11 again, he’s got a direct line to Steve “the rat” Rattner, the Obama Car Czar, to come in and grease the UAW palms once again.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Well the Volt PHEV is discontinued and Toyota will be selling a RAV4 PHEV…a decade later. While a few auto companies are releasing PHEV most are focused longterm and are releasing EV like GM will do with it’s trucks the next few years. Plus Honda is invested in GM for a EV car platform.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    GM CEO Says Automaker Will Still Lead Bankruptcy, Liquidation.

  • avatar
    ajla

    “The 20 EV models planned for launch by 2023 are still coming”

    I’m counting the Cadillac CUV, the HUMMER truck, the HUMMER SUV, and the Bolt-based CUV. So three high-dollar low-volume products (two of which are just bodystyle changes) and maybe one mainstream offering.

    So what are the other 16? Are they going to be for sale in North America? What EV volume are they expecting at the end of 2023?

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      These almost certainly won’t be BEVs, but hybrids.

      IMO, if it has a gas tank, it’s not an electric car. The type of motor attached to the wheels is irrelevant if it still requires gasoline to operate at its full range.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        I guess you missed the press release from last decade. Only Toyota will be staying dual propulsion like hybrids as even Honda with the help of GM is going EV.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          “Toyota will be staying dual propulsion”

          Toyota is going EV as well. They may in fact have the best battery technology if they can get it into production. They have the most solid-state battery patents and could end up at the top in terms of EVs.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Mcs, Toyota has no EV plans to sell EV’s right now. Neither does Honda for the U.S.

          • 0 avatar
            mcs

            @normSV650: “Toyota has no EV plans to sell EV’s right now”

            They have plans for full EVs for the US in the next 5 years. There is a rumor that the CUV could be here in 2021, but, it’s just a rumor. I think they have been waiting for the right technology. Now they have it, but it can’t be put into production overnight. For years, there has been a steady stream of solid-state battery patents from them. The battery is done, but it needs to be moved into mass production, which is a graveyard for a lot of technologies, but Toyota can pull it off.

            For competitive reasons, they aren’t making a lot of noise about it.

            https://www.autonews.com/shift/solid-state-batteries-show-promise

      • 0 avatar
        ttiguy

        GM has completely eliminated hybrids. All will be full EV’s but I bet the 23 number is a global count, not North America.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    Cruise AV product: “I think you’ll see it clearly within five years”

    Not only will the lawyers prevent this, but so will consumers. Precisely what is the revenue stream for ‘mobility’ that was sold to investors? (Same question goes for Ford and all the other dreamers.)

  • avatar
    Kendahl

    In other words, GM intends to lead in building vehicles that don’t meet my needs and that I don’t want to drive. Autonomy won’t benefit me until my driving skills deteriorate with age to the point I should no longer be on the road.

    The people who choose CUVs would be best served by plug in hybrids. Short trips on the battery and no worries about range on long ones.

  • avatar
    el scotto

    Fill up a parking lot at the RENCEN with everything GM makes. Pull out the corvettes, silverados,suburbans, and escalades. Run over the remaining vehicles with bulldozers from the landfill. More garbage being compacted. Drive in Toyota and Honda’s best selling vehicles. Tell all the assembled corporate vice presidents to make the crushed ones as good as Toyotas/Hondas. Darkly mutter “we should have started doing this in 1978.” Admit to those assembled, “We could have, no excuses.” Back in the real world GM will be supported by the dying off “buy American” crowd; GM loyalist who just need one imported vehicle to change their mind; and those who pride themselves on being thrifty. It’s like watching a former all star squeezing out their last seasons.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      GM SUV platforms have been selling as good or better than the Japanese in their respective segments through 2019.

      Maybe the Jpanese should lineup their gas-guzzler trucks and SUVs to bull doze over and replace with more efficient and modern Big 3 trucks and SUVs that actually make the companies money?

  • avatar
    ttiguy

    So much ignorant, never worked a day in ANY real business environment (blogging doesnt count!), yummy meat here to chew on. I’ll start by repeating my question to Mr. Posky that he didn’t have the guts to answer last time…..

    “This is about misleading corporate messaging and the industry walking things back while they still can”

    QUESTION>>>>>>>>>>>>Again, where is there any hint of walking ANYTHING back???

    • 0 avatar

      GM according to consumer reports is again the least reliable US carmaker. Barra has failed.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        You don’t buy a GM brand car, but one of four nameplates. Pick one of the segments the Buick, Chevy, GMC, or Cadillac and they are recommended or just out a couple points of being recommended by CR. When you do not use MSRP but the $10,000 discounted price they provide one of the better deals.

  • avatar
    Varezhka

    GM is an automaker equivalent of your deadbeat roommate.

    Always talking about his or her latest and greatest business venture while weaseling out of paying their portion of the rent (after insisting on renting the most expensive condo in the city).

    In the end, you’ll come back from work one day to a trashed condo minus anything of value.

  • avatar

    I think we all can agree Barra is the worst GM CEO ever. Wow, that is saying a lot.

  • avatar

    GM according to consumer reports is again the least reliable US carmaker. Barra had failed.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      You don’t buy a GM brand car, but one of four nameplates. Pick one of the segments the Buick, Chevy, GMC, or Cadillac and they are recommended or just out a couple points of being recommended by CR. When you do not use MSRP but the $10,000 discounted price they provide one of the better deals.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    “We have a steady drumbeat of EVs coming out across segments”

    Well, that’s a winner in the mixed metaphor sweepstakes, anyway. Wonder what dunderhead of a PR warrior came up with the idea to equate drumbeats with an EV?

    Doltish horse manure, but what I expect these days. In car terms we went from sedan to De Luxe to GT and then we had run out of superlatives a normal person could understand. It’s like using a qualifying adjective on unique, nobody seems to understand what unique means, but it just doesn’t sound “good” enough to be the only one. You have to be very one, or completely one. And not have a clue how to spell or punctuate. Then you’re modern.

    So drumbeats are EVs now. Who knew? About as fake and nonsensical as everything is these days.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      With costs to produce to drop by over 1/3rd the savings if producing EV over complex ICE and supporting transmission is an easy choice to profits.

  • avatar
    HotPotato

    They could start by just keeping the product they already have out there up to date. The Bolt has a cool little niche: with manufacturer incentives, it’s the cheapest long-range EV, and it’s also a hoot to drive. Its only problems have been well known since its inception: the front seats are torture devices, the interior looks cheap, the styling doesn’t do much for people, the max charging rate isn’t as fast as newer EVs, it doesn’t offer adaptive cruise control, and some people would prefer that it be a tad bigger. GM has an updated Bolt ready to go that fixes most of that list, and a new Bolt EUV on a fresher platform that fixes the rest. Yet they have announced the updated Bolt will be delayed. Maybe they could transfer some folks over from the electric Hummer that nobody wants to keep the current product on schedule. When Honda got negative feedback on the Civic, they fixed all the problems in ONE model year. The new GM is content to put out a produce that’s 80% there and let it wither on the vine, just like the old GM.

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