As part of plans to transform into “a platform innovator,” GM Korea will emphasize competitiveness and profitability to reinvigorate its business model. That was one of several announcements made in Incheon on Friday, including:
- 10 GM electric vehicles (EVs) will become available for the Korean domestic market by 2025.
- The GMC brand through the Sierra pickup will be launched in the domestic market.
- Two global programs — Trailblazer and the new C-CUV (cross utility vehicle) — should spark a GM Korea business turnaround.
- The GM engineering team in South Korea will expand its EV engineering capability.
Describing the company as being at “an inflection point,” Steven Kiefer, the head of GM’s international operations, acknowledged the special relationship that GM Korea has with the country’s “market of early adopters and very technology-focused people.”
GM Korea hosted the press conference at its GM Design Center in Bupyeong. There, Kiefer outlined the company’s pursuit of a “triple zero vision – zero crashes, zero emissions, and zero congestion.” The company needs to refocus on global programs in manufacturing, Kiefer admitted, and will do so with 2 tracks — manufacturing operations and domestic market strategy — aligned with a multi-brand strategy in the domestic market.
Korea, Kiefer, insisted, will play a critical role to make that vision a reality.
In bringing the 10 new EVs to this market by 2025, Kiefer noted that “every price point from entry-level vehicles to performance cars, rugged trucks, capable SUVs, crossovers, and luxury products that our customers know and love” will be part of the release.
- Following the 2018 investment in 2 new global vehicle platforms, GM is confident it will turn around its core business.
- GM Technical Center Korea (GMTCK) is working on a number of projects related to the future of mobility. The technical center is GM’s second-largest engineering center and its largest outside the US. It has more than 3,000 engineers, designers, and technicians, and its facilities are capable of full vehicle development, from design to final vehicle validation and production.
- GM’s Ultium joint venture with LG Energy Solution is producing a battery platform to power the zero emissions future. The partnership was recognized just last month with the Korea Society’s Van Fleet Award.
“GM has changed the world over the past century,” Kiefer reminded the audience, acknowledging that the company is in the midst of “finding new roads” across business sectors that will provide new growth opportunities and position the company “for a sustainable future.”
The Korea Herald emphasized that the GM EVs will all be imported, and that the automaker does not plan to produce any EVs or other new vehicles in the country, except for the existing ones.
The Financial Backdrop of GM Korea
GM Korea was established in 2002 and has about 10,000 employees. In 2020, GM Korea sold 82,954 units in Korea and exported about 285,499 finished vehicles around the world.
GM is Korea’s largest foreign direct investor. The GM Korea unit will play a pivotal role in global company strategies and future planning.
GM Technical Center Korea Co., LTD was created in January, 2019 to lead the development of GM’s global vehicles. Located at GM Korea’s Bupyeong headquarters in Bupyeong-gu, Incheon, the company has professional vehicle engineering operations and facilities that include a design center, a vehicle engineering center, manufacturing engineering operations, and the Cheong-na Proving Ground. The announcement this week noted that GM Korea has introduced new digital tools and high-quality displays at the Design Center, new test facilities such as an autonomous vehicle test road at the Cheong-na Proving Ground, and new offices and IT tools at the Engineering Center.
GMTCK President Roberto Rempel described the ongoing investments at the Technical Center in Korea. “We have been preparing for the future by hiring about 200 young engineers and designers through internship programs and upgrading our facilities for a more collaborative work environment and to enable new technologies.”
EVs are integral to that future planning. “Now our role in GM’s EV strategy is expanding,” Rempel continued. “We have started supporting GM global engineering on next-gen EV programs, based on the flexible Ultium platform and Ultifi technology. This is phenomenal for our future and a great sign of the trust from GM in us in Korea.”
GM Korea builds about 600,000 vehicles a year, shipping many to the US, including the Chevrolet Trailblazer SUV. The company reported an operating loss of $262 million (309 billion won) last year.
When asked about the impact of the chip shortage at its plants, GM Korea Chief Executive Kaher Kazem said production volume in the country this year was down about 25% versus last year, but the chip shortage seemed to be easing.
As Reuters has reported, GM which warned last year that persistent industrial action was preventing further investment in South Korea. Currently, the company builds EVs in the US and China and has plans to build them in Mexico and Canada. Indeed, the company’s April, 2021 announcement that it would invest $1 billion in a manufacturing complex in Mexico drew immediate criticism from the US autoworkers workers. GM will build EVs in 2023 in the border state of Coahuila.
The Long Memory of LG in South Korea
Of course, the LG plant in South Korea was one of 2 battery manufacturers that was highlighted by GM during the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration investigation. When the batteries used in the Chevy Bolt first started catching fire, General Motors and its battery supplier, LG Chem, first attributed the problem to a defect in the way the pouch cells used in the Bolt were manufactured at one factory in Korea. But later the problem was found to involve battery cells manufactured at other facilities. After 13 fires in Chevy Bolts — even though GM said that the fires were rare — the software fix GM thought it had created didn’t solve the problem.
Chevrolet recalled every Bolt ever made, including 2022 models. It is also placing the blame for the problem squarely on the shoulders of LG Chem, which is now called LG Energy Solution. The issue does not impact the Ultium battery cells that will power GM’s upcoming EV offerings, including the Cadillac Lyriq and Hummer. Those batteries will be made at two factories jointly owned by GM and LGES.
Images provided through Chevrolet Pressroom
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