GM Reveals New EV Strategy — Hit ‘Em Where They Ain’t

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Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Keeler had one piece of advice for hitters: “Keep your eye clear, and hit ’em where they ain’t.” That was more than 100 years ago, but the advice is still valid today. General Motors is late to the electric car party, despite being one of the leaders in the field with the innovative EV1 back in 1996. That delay has given companies like Tesla an opportunity to spurt ahead when it comes to making electric passenger cars.

GMC cargo van
GMC cargo van (Image credit: GMC)

But personal cars are just one segment of the new vehicle market, and some would argue not the most important when it comes to reducing tailpipe emissions. Look around on your way to work today or the store today. Chances are, lots of the vehicles on the road around you are commercial vans, the type favored by tradespeople and delivery companies.

The problem is, most of them are equipped with diesel engines or big V-8 gasoline engines that spew out tons of particulates and oxides of nitrogen along with carbon dioxide. To make things worse, while passenger cars get used for a few hours a day at most, all those vans are to-ing and fro-ing all day every day as they shuttle from place to place. Converting them to electric drivetrains would go a long way toward reducing pollution from the transportation sector.

But while there are some companies who say they are going to produce electric vans someday — Rivian, Lordstown Motors, and even Mercedes Benz are working on such vehicles — no one has begun volume production as of yet and the field is wide open. GM plans to get there firstest with the mostest, sources tell Reuters.

Five anonymous insiders tell Reuters the proposed GM van — code-named BV1 — is scheduled to start production late in 2021 and will be built alongside the upcoming Hummer electric pickup truck at the reconfigured Detroit-Hamtramck plant. It will use the new Ultium pouch cell batteries GM revealed with great fanfare earlier this year. The company has not officially confirmed the Reuters story, but suppliers familiar with plans at GM and Ford told Reuters US automakers “don’t want to leave the door open for Tesla” as they did with passenger cars. Commercial trucks are not glamorous, but the segment is one of the most profitable for manufacturers.

Scott Phillippi, senior director of fleet maintenance and engineering for UPS, told Reuters he believes electric vans have the potential to disrupt the commercial market. “It’s going to be similar to what the Model 3 has done for the consumer market. Now all of a sudden, we’re off to the races.”

In a statement, GM told Reuters it is “committed to an all-electric future and is implementing a multi-segment, scalable EV strategy to get there. At this time, we do not have any announcements to make regarding electric commercial vehicles.”

“Buyers of commercial vans want reliability and not necessarily a flashy brand name,” said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting at AutoForecast Solutions. “The reduced maintenance and fuel use of electric vehicles become very attractive to a business customer, where the current limitations of EVs make the price premium less attractive to individual consumers.”

True cost of ownership is not a major consideration for many passenger car buyers. If it was, they would roll over in shock when they realized how much money depreciation was taking out of their pockets as soon as their shiny new conventional car rolls off the dealer’s lot. Some so-called luxury cars are worth as much as one-third less just 12 months later. Fleet operators are the true connoisseurs of value. They compute every expense to the last penny per mile, which will make buying electric vans as easy as falling off a log for them.

And here’s something else to consider. All those people driving electric vans will tell their family and friends about how great they are, helping to make the idea of owning an electric car more acceptable to mainstream buyers. The electric vans of the future can’t get here soon enough.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." You can follow him on Substack and LinkedIn but not on Fakebook or any social media platforms controlled by narcissistic yahoos.

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