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General Motors Amps Up Its Electric Vehicle Plans — Ultium, Ultra Cruise, & More

GM promised investors this week that it will double revenues and take the lead in electric car sales in North America.

It used to be if you wanted news about the EV revolution, you turned to Elon Musk and Tesla. While some other manufacturers were dipping their toes in the electric car waters, Tesla was the one that was making waves.

Tesla is going great guns with two new factories coming online shortly, and shows no signs of slowing down, but those other companies aren’t resting on their laurels any more. They have awakened from their self-satisfied reverie and are slowly but surely dragging themselves into a future where electrified transportation will be the norm.

General Motors is the poster child for the notion that large, multi-national corporations are lumbering giants who trip over their own feet when they try to change direction. It has shown glimpses of inspiration in the past — the EV1 and the Chevy Volt being two examples — but always goes back to doing what it does best, which is building high volume cars and trucks for the masses.

Now, if recent announcements from The General can be believed, it is fully onboard with the EV revolution. This past week at an Investors Day event, it said it will double its revenue by 2030, take the EV sales crown away from Tesla, make its combustion engines more efficient with lower emissions, generate new revenue from insurance and OnStar subscriptions, introduce its Ultra Cruise self-driving system, offer an under-$30,000 electric SUV, introduce a new low price electric SUV, and bring an all-electric version of the Silverado/Sierra pickup twins to market. Whew! That is a lot of stuff to be doing. Let’s unpack GM’s goals to get at the details.

The All-Electric Silverado

In a press release this week, General Motors said it will introduce its all-new from the ground up Chevrolet Silverado electric pickup truck at the CES 2022 show in January. The truck will be built on GM’s Ultium electric vehicle platform, which uses Ultium batteries and Ultium electric motors. (GM’s marketing department is in love with the new word they created!) The Silverado EV will offer a full glass roof for the first time in a full size pickup. The 4-wheel steering system that will be a feature of the upcoming electric Hummer will also be available.

For fleet buyers there will be no fancy glass room or crab walking suspensions, just hardworking trucks with up to 400 miles of range. There’s no mention of a ginormous frunk or vehicle to home capability like the Ford F-150 Lightning, though. A glass roof may not be enough to overcome the lack of those features, if in fact they are absent on the Silverado. (An electric GMC Sierra will follow shortly after the Silverado is introduced.) It is unlikely all Silverado EVs will offer that much range, however. Expect a number of battery size options.

Ultra Cruise

GM says its new Ultra Cruise will be every bit the equal of Tesla’s much ballyhooed (and oft delayed) Full Self Driving system. With more sensors than its Super Cruise system, including cameras, radars, and lidar, it develops an “accurate, 360-degree, three-dimensional statistical representations of the environment surrounding vehicles with redundancies in critical areas.” GM says it will offer drivers door-to-door self-driving 95% of the time.

“Ultra Cruise is not just a game changer in terms of what it enables ­– a door-to-door hands free driving experience — but a technological one as well,” says GM executive vice president Doug Parks. “It’s been developed completely in-house. The combination of Ultra Cruise for premium offerings and Super Cruise for lower-cost products will enable us to offer driver-assist technology across price points and segments.” Ultra Cruise will be one of those subscription offerings GM is counting on to bring more money in the door.

Autoblog says, “Like Tesla, GM’s offering will support over-the-air software updates allowing both maintenance and expansion as issues are identified or upgrade modules are made available. Look for Ultra Cruise to debut next year on a so-far unnamed 2023 Cadillac model.”

There’s More!

As part of the Investors Day presentation, GM president Mark Reuss said a Chevy SUV about the size of the current Equinox that starts at around $30,000 should bring significant new sales to the company. The Equinox is GM’s second bestselling vehicle. He added that the company is working on an electric Chevy Blazer and a smaller vehicle at a lower price point, but offered no details. Reuss claimed that electric vehicles will bring new buyers into showrooms.

He added that the company will create a dedicated factory to build electric trucks by converting an existing facility and plans to have more than half of its North American and China factories capable of making electric vehicles by 2030. (Contrast that with Volkswagen Group CEO Herbert Diess calling for tearing down existing factories to make new, more efficient production facilities.) GM also said this week it will investment $750 million in improving EV charging networks over the next 4 years.

The Devil & The Details

The company also announced last week the creation of a Battery Innovation Center where it expects to find ways to improve battery performance and lower battery costs. It is building two battery factories — one in Michigan and one in Tennessee — with partner LG Energy Solution to manufacture the battery cells it will need to power its new all-electric offerings.

“If wishes were horses, we’d all be kings,” my old Irish grandmother liked to say. GM has made a ton of promises recently, but talk is cheap. Actions are what count. Readers should be aware that GM is relying on sales of good old cars and trucks with good old internal combustion engines to pay for all this.

Long time observers of General Motors can’t help feeling that if market conditions changed, GM would drop its electric vehicle intentions faster than 3-day-old fish and carry on doing what it has always done until the waters of Lake St. Claire and Lake Erie combine to submerge Detroit.

If investors were impressed with what they heard on Investors Day, they had a funny way of showing. The price of GM stock actually fell slightly after the presentation before recovering somewhat later in the week.

GM is clearly in the EV race, but always seems to be about a lap behind the leaders. Will it realize its lofty goals? Will it even still be in business at the end of this decade? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.

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Written By

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we listened?


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