GM has committed to an additional $7 billion in funding for electric car and autonomous vehicle programs and will launch 30 new EV models globally through 2025, CEO Mary Barra announced today. Two-thirds of these new EV models will be available in North America, and 40%(!) of GM’s US model line will be battery electric vehicles by 2025. GM also announced it would be moving its US debut of the Cadillac Lyriq SUV up from late 2022 to early 2022.
But GM has been making a lot of announcements lately, yet if you go to a GM dealership today, there’s a very small chance you’ll see an EV. Should we take GM at its word?
With this announcement, GM has now dedicated more than $27 billion to EVs and AVs through 2025, which eclipses its planned spending on gas and diesel vehicles and represents a majority of GM’s capital spending and product development in that timeframe.
Cadillac, GMC, Chevrolet, and Buick will each have electric vehicles available at all price points. GM will make at least three unannounced GMC vehicles, four Chevrolets, four Cadillacs, and two Buicks, including GMC- and Chevy-branded pickup trucks and a compact crossover from Chevy.
GM’s plans don’t just end with money and promises of future vehicle launches, though. The company is pushing forward with its “Ultium” battery technology (developed jointly with LG Chem) and expects batteries to cost 60% less and have double the energy density of today’s packs by mid-decade. This will allow some Ultium-based vehicles to achieve a maximum range of up to 450 miles (which is probably way more than you need). GM is exploring the possibility of licensing Ultium to other automakers including Honda, which it announced, and Nikola, which it has been silent about lately.
EV batteries have consistently improved over the years, generally at a rate of 5-10% per year. So GM’s expected improvement is about in line with the high end of that technology curve, though these projections may be slightly hopeful.
GM also shared that it plans to sell a million EVs by mid-decade (a number that Tesla, a much smaller automaker, already passed in March). GM has currently sold under 100,000 BEVs with its Chevy Bolt, though the Volt PHEV/Cadillac ELR also sold fairly well before it was retired.
As for specific models, GM has accelerated plans for both the Hummer EV and Cadillac Lyriq EV. GM announced $2 billion in investment for an EV factory in Tennessee just last month, where the Lyriq is planned to be built. Cadillac now plans to launch the Lyriq in the first quarter of 2022, nine months ahead of its previous schedule of late 2022.
The Hummer EV was originally announced with a slow rollout, with the first trim levels being available in 2021, while base model buyers will have to wait until 2024. GM didn’t specify whether this announcement means the timeline for lower trim levels would be accelerated.
They did state, however, that the development time for the Hummer EV was only 26 months, down from a standard of around 50 months. GM expects this to be its new benchmark for new vehicle development, which will enable them to roll out promised EV models on a much tighter timeline than has traditionally been the case.
This could allow us to see some models much earlier than might otherwise be anticipated. So far, we’ve seen some spy photos of what might be an electric Cadillac SUV, trademarks for something called an “E-Ray,” but little else is publicly available. Seth Weintraub of Electrek attended GM’s EV Day in March and saw GM’s upcoming EVs in the flesh, so several are currently being developed, and we’ll hear more about them soon.
In comments about these announcements, Barra said:
Climate change is real, and we want to be part of the solution by putting everyone in an electric vehicle. We are transitioning to an all-electric portfolio from a position of strength and we’re focused on growth. We can accelerate our EV plans because we are rapidly building a competitive advantage in batteries, software, vehicle integration, manufacturing and customer experience.
President-elect (and Chevy Corvette owner) Joe Biden met with Barra, labor leaders, and other automotive and tech CEOs on Monday. We can imagine that electric vehicles were a topic of conversation, given Biden’s nearly $2 trillion climate plan, which includes plans to expand electric vehicle adoption. When asked specifically, GM says that the change in US leadership was not a factor in today’s announcement, though they would welcome a return to the $7,500 tax rebate for all makers that Biden has pushed.
During a conference call with reporters last night, GM said it would make some announcements about specific EVs today at the Barclays Automotive event. Electrek will of course be “on the scene.”
Despite these big plans, GM is sending mixed signals. The company is still allied with the coal-lobbyist-led EPA to sue California over higher emissions standards, which makes little sense for a company that is supposedly serious about electric cars. We asked GM president Mark Reuss about this early this year, and he gave us a bogus, Orwellian rationale that GM’s opposition to higher emissions standards is somehow meant to encourage a faster shift to EVs. When asked about siding with Trump this week, Doug Parks, GM’s executive vice president of Global Product Development, Purchasing and Supply Chain, disappointingly echoed these claims saying that “all GM wants is a level playing field.”
We’ve also heard big new model plans like these before. In October 2017, GM promised two new EVs within 18 months and 20 new EVs within five years. Currently, GM sells one battery-electric vehicle in the US, the Chevy Bolt, which it was also selling prior to that promise. It’s a great little car, but it’s quite short of the big promises we’ve heard. And it’s not the first time GM has broken EV promises.
Even with a 26-month development timeline, GM is going to have to rush to release 20 new EVs by (*checks calendar*) 23 months from now. Also, notably, all of those draped vehicles in this article’s featured photo, which originally came from GM’s October 2017 announcement (37 months ago), are still not available and most have not been shown publicly. The fact that we can run the same photo more than three years later and GM’s available model line hasn’t changed at all is a pretty big indication that things are going slower than they should.
So, as it seems like we keep saying virtually any time any automaker announces anything: great talk, now show us some action. Many of these EV commitments are already weaker than what we need as a planet to avoid the worst effects of climate change, and automakers keep missing even the mild commitments they set for themselves. Even when the cars do hit the road, GM will have to struggle with getting its dealerships to sell them, which remains a problem for most companies with franchised dealership models.
GM’s commitments today are stronger than most and reasonably impressive, but the company’s mixed history on EVs, legal advocacy against emissions standards that will save both lives and money, and the current status of its previous promises give us reason to be skeptical. Show us the cars at the dealership, GM.
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