A report by Reuters says General Motors intends to become a vertically integrated company when it comes to producing electric cars and trucks. Over the past several decades, more and more of the major components that go into making vehicles have been sourced from outside suppliers. For instance, the Chevy Bolt features batteries and drivetrain components supplied by LG Chem, which even makes the dashboard for those cars. In theory, a supplier providing parts to several manufacturers can produce products that cost less than what the manufacturers can make on their own. But that also leaves manufacturers vulnerable to price increases and potential production delays.
As it has in many areas, Tesla has bucked conventional wisdom in the car industry by building many of the parts that go into its vehicles itself. Now GM says it wants to do the same thing with the electric vehicles it builds. It has adopted the name Ultium for the battery cells and battery packs it intends to use in those vehicles. Now it says it will extend the Ultium name to cover a range of 5 electric powertrains and 3 electric motors that will serve as the backbone of its electric car business. The company says the combinations made possible by those powertrains and motors will be up to the challenge of powering all its forthcoming electric models, from passenger cars to pickup trucks and SUVs.
Adam Kwiatkowski, GM’s executive chief engineer for global electrical propulsion, tells Reuters that by designing its own e-axles, GM can better integrate them with the battery and other components of electric vehicles. E-axles as they are known in the industry combine gear, motor and power electronics into a single system and help convert the electricity from batteries efficiently. That extra efficiency can lead to higher performance and longer range. It also may mean smaller batteries that permit lower cost cars for consumers.
GM “designed these drive units simultaneously with a full gambit of electric vehicles that fill out our portfolio,” Kwiatkowski told Reuters in a recent interview. “They become synergistic and make them a really efficient package that’s good for the performance of the vehicle, good for driving customer enthusiasm, and most importantly it’s good for cost efficiency,” he said.
For generations, car companies have been known for their engines and transmissions. In the future, they may be known for their electric motors and battery management systems. Perhaps someday the chatter at classic car events will sound something like this: “Yup, that Cadillac Excrescence has four Ultium Three motors with the Level 5 BMS. Cadillac only built 457 cars with that optional Ultium Ultimate package in 2033.” Assuming private passenger cars are still legal by then.