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GM CEO: Electric vehicles will help us sell more cars on the coasts

Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors, took questions from car journalists today during a virtual “fireside chat,” held by the Automotive Press Association. Even though the writers represented mainstream auto outlets, many of the questions focused on GM’s EV plans.

Barra was challenged about her recent comments, published last week by Bloomberg, that the transition to EVs could take 20 years. She said the quote did not convey her answer in context. Barra commented today that she was referring to how long it would take for the nation’s entire fleet of 250 million vehicles to become uniformly pure electric.

Barra said:

I’m very optimistic that we can see EV growth. But if you look at the whole portfolio changing over and when you look at the average age of a vehicle on the road is 11.4 years, the tail will be a bit longer. But we couldn’t be more excited about EVs. We believe in an all-electric future, and we’re moving aggressively.

She explained that part of her excitement was about helping GM sell more cars in US regions where it faces challenges — namely in California and on the coasts. Unfortunately, the implication was that EVs will be a growth segment on the coasts while the heartland will keep buying gas cars.

EVs will allow us to grow as a company. If you think about General Motors, we are strong in the middle of the country. Our share isn’t as strong on the coasts, where EVs are having the most success. So we think that gives us a chance to continue with strong sales from internal combustion engine perspective across our brands, and EVs are very additive.

The CEO downplayed any notion that the pandemic has slowed the company down regarding the development of its future EVs, plans for the all-electric Cruise Origin autonomous vehicle, our introducing new internal-combustion SUVs and trucks.

She said, in the meantime, that Chevrolet Bolt EV is “very well received” and that a new variant, the EUV version, is coming out soon. (These models will be the last ones on the current GM EV platform.)

2020 Chevy Bolt

Barra also emphasized that its new Ultium EV platform would help the company’s market position in China.

We’re going to be in the sweet spot where there is a growth opportunity as the entire market transition to New Energy Vehicles.

Some of the NEV vehicles have a different profit outlook than some of the ICE vehicles, but as we get to the Ultium platform and get that at scale, which we plan to do very quickly, we’ll be looking at profitable and volume growth.

Teaser image of the Hummer EV

Barra promised that the canceled GMC Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq unveilings would happen “in the not too distant future,” while not providing a specific date.

You will see a couple of exciting reveals coming yet this year, including the Cadillac Lyriq and GMC Hummer EV. They will largely be online both virtual and augmented reality technologies to help tell our story. And I think we’ll be able to generate the excitement and share what these products are.

When asked if she has been pushing government officials to introduce a Cash for Clunkers program to stimulate auto sales in the US, she pivoted to EVs (and restoring EV tax credits for GM cars).

We still see incentivizing people to learn, experience, and purchase EVs would help accelerate the transition, which we think is important. That’s the input we’ve been giving.

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.