“We believe in an all-electric future and we are bringing all of the power and assets of GM to the EV opportunity.” Those were the key messages that both GM CEO Mary Barra and president Mark Reuss conveyed several times throughout a 2-hour action-packed agenda delivered to an estimated 50 journalists during EV Day at GM’s Design Dome at the Tech Center in Warren, Michigan.
Highlighting the announcements were two key initiatives that will drive GM’s electric vehicle strategy, a modular propulsion system and a highly flexible, third-generation, global EV platform powered by proprietary Ultium batteries. The flexible and modular battery and powertrain systems will enable GM to scale new EV models across multiple brands and segments in both North America and China. GM is targeting the sale of 1 million EVs globally by mid-decade.
“We believe climate change is real and will produce as many EVs as possible by mid decade,” Barra told the attendees. To back it up, between 2020 and 2025 GM is investing $25 billion in both EV and AV technology and infrastructure. Additionally, GM’s EV charging infrastructure team shared its plans and focus to create the home, workplace, and public charging infrastructure needed to help drive EV sales and consumer adoption.
During conversations with more than a dozen GM executives across brands and departments, you could feel the excitement that the transition to EVs was creating for both individual employees and brands.
“This is a huge opportunity for us. The biggest opportunity any of us has ever seen for this company, certainly.” — Mark Reuss, president, GM
In private conversations with GM’s CMO Deborah Wahl and Cadillac president Steve Carlisle, both confirmed that electrification was a huge opportunity to reinvent the Cadillac brand. Carlisle pointed out that Cadillac is a 100 year old brand that launched during the transition from horse to cars and that at the end of this decade Cadillac would transition to fully electric during the end of the fossil fuel era.
Ultium Batteries to Power All Future GM EV Models
GM’s new Ultium batteries, which were designed in Michigan, will use large-format, pouch-style cells that can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack. The flexible and modular format enables GM to put 24 modules, with vertically stacked cells, in the Hummer, or 6, 8, 10, or 12 modules with horizontally-stacked cells into low-profile Cadillac, Buick, and Chevrolet crossovers.
The batteries currently powering the Bolt cost $145/kWh, while the new Ultium batteries produced under the joint venture with LG Chem will drive battery cell costs below $100/kWh (by 2025). The cells use a proprietary low-cobalt chemistry, and GM expects that ongoing technological and manufacturing breakthroughs will drive costs even lower in the coming years.
To scale up to deliver 1 million EVs annually, the supply chain for batteries, including both the minerals and cell production, are critical. GM will be heavily focused on transitioning to an NMCA (nickel, manganese, cobalt, aluminum) chemistry from NMC, with a goal to reduce the use of cobalt by 70%. A greater use of aluminum is the key to reducing the reliance on cobalt. With a 10-fold increase in demand for batteries, GM is looking to source as many minerals, such as nickel and lithium, as possible from North America.
The batteries will be manufactured in the new LG Chem/GM plant in Ohio, with an initial annual capacity of 30 GWh. When GM reaches its goal of 1 million EVs produced annually (by 2025), that equates to the manufacture of 250 million cells per year.
The modular propulsion system and global EV platform powered by the Ultium batteries will enable GM to produce vehicles for every segment of the market, including entry-level cars, work trucks, and high-performance sports cars.
Key specifications on the Ultium batteries and powertrains include:
- Energy options ranging from 50 to 200 kWh.
- EVs with an estimated range up to 400 miles or more on a full charge.
- Most GM EV car models will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200 kW fast-charging capability.
- Vehicles built on GM’s truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350 kW fast-charging capability.
- 0 to 60 mph acceleration as low as 3 seconds.
- Designed for Level 2 and DC fast charging.
- Motors designed in-house will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and performance all-wheel drive applications.
GM EV Model Launch Plans
In the GM Design Dome, attendees were able to see several future GM EVs and learn from the design teams behind each vehicle. GM displayed vehicles from across its various brands, but other than the Hummer and Bolt models, executives did not specify release dates other than that all would arrive before 2025. Barra and other executives reiterated several times that everything that we saw was real and was either going into testing or production in the near future. Models included:
- Hummer by GMC: SUT and SUV arriving in 2021.
- Cadillac: Lyriq, a large CUV that features a 32-inch wide display that will be standard for future Cadillacs, and an unnamed large Escalade-sized SUV.
- Buick: Two new mid-sized crossovers Buicks. The Buicks are global platforms that will be sold in both China and North America.
- Chevrolet: A mid-sized CUV built on a shared platform with the Buick models. While a Chevrolet pickup was not on display and GM executives would not specify a production timeline, they did show concept rendering in a video that at least to this person’s eye looked impressive.
- Chevrolet Bolt EV: An updated Bolt with a new front grill and interior launches in late 2020.
- Chevrolet Bolt EUV: A larger, more SUV-like version of the Bolt. The 2022 model will launch in the summer of 2021. The Bolt EUV will be the first vehicle outside of the Cadillac brand to feature Super Cruise, GM’s hands-free driving technology. GM will expand Super Cruise availability to 22 vehicles by 2023, including 10 in 2021.
Economies of Scale
While legacy OEMs are often thought to be at a disadvantage relative to newcomers like Tesla, Rivian, and others, GM believes it has several several opportunities to help the company in its electrification transition. These include:
- Capital Efficiency: GM can spend less capital to scale its EV business because it is able to leverage existing property, including land, buildings, tools, and production equipment such as body shops and paint shops.
- Complexity Reduction: GM designed the vehicle and propulsion systems together to minimize complexity and part counts beyond today’s EVs and ICE platforms. For example, GM plans 19 different battery and drive unit configurations initially, compared with 550 internal combustion powertrain combinations available today.
There was so much more revealed and discussed at the event today, which I plan to share in future articles. But what is clear to me is that you can no longer question GM’s commitment to a zero-emission future.