Image of 2025 Sierra EV Elevation provided by GM

“Our Future Is Electric,” But GM’s Chief Sustainability Officer Wants More EV Infrastructure Support

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For all the media frenzy lately about how EV demand is falling, the data definitely doesn’t underpin such claims. Automakers are keenly aware of the contradiction, yet the EV ennui and discourse around the “we’re not ready” firestorm offers a methodical opportunity for automakers to ramp up their EV infrastructure.

Kristen Siemen, chief sustainability officer (CSO) at General Motors (GM), appeared this week at COP28 for EV infrastructure and policy support to help make an all-electric transportation future a reality. Sure, the IRA has helped spark $100 billion of investment in EV and battery manufacturing, but those and other EV infrastructure projects will take time, with more acceleration expected in 2024 and into 2025. A robust EV infrastructure is necessary to create lines of profitable plug-in passenger vehicles, she explained.

Sales of passenger EVs are on pace to hit 14 million this year, up 36% from 2022. In the US, where most of the concerns about demand have been raised, sales are growing even faster and will be up 50% this year. Like many legacy automakers, GM has launched EV products that are not yet fully competitive on price, range, or features with all-electric manufacturers like Tesla, BYD, and Li Auto. Those automakers are on track to capture 7% of the global vehicle market this year.

CSO Siemen spoke at the Future Mobility Hub at COP28 in Dubai on December 4, 2023. The Future Mobility Hub serves as a complementary business venue to the policy focused COP28.

On an all-electric future at GM: “We’ve been very clear at General Motors that our future is electric,” Siemen reflected, even as the GM Q3 2023 letter to shareholders described the shifting GM plans for EVs. Moderating the acceleration of EV production in North America, the shareholder letter said, would serve “to protect our pricing, adjust to slower near-term growth in demand, and implement engineering efficiency and other improvements that will make our vehicles less expensive to produce, and more profitable.”

New GM EVs are on their way: “We have plans to turn over our portfolio and have been introducing a number of new EV vehicles. That transition is going to take some time,” Siemen noted. Among its EV commitments, GM has been ramping up production of the Cadillac Lyriq while continuing sales of the GMC Hummer EV. With a starting price of around $30,000 for the 1LT, the Equinox EV plugs Chevrolet into the critical compact SUV segment and may be the most affordable EV in its class. The 2024 Chevrolet Equinox EV 2RS limited availability could be starting early 2024, according to the company’s website. The 2023 Bolt EV and Bolt EUV are available now, while the 2024 Blazer EV SS and 2024 Silverado EV RST are targeted for 2024 deliveries.

Implementation of all these new GM product lines, of course, takes time.

Issues related to infrastructure expansion: “I mean, so we continue to look at the market and understand some of those issues and where (sic) we’ve talked about,” Siemen explained. GM is investing nearly $750 million in charging infrastructure so their customers can have a better charging experience at home and work. They’re also pursuing the development of a coast-to-coast public charging network. Then again, the UAW pitched a carefully coordinated campaign that targeted the most profitable factories at GM, Ford, and Stellantis simultaneously, so that the union won historic wage increases coupled with strong gains in job security and benefits.

On policies to support an electric future: “We really need partnership again from an infrastructure standpoint, from a policy standpoint,” Siemen argued. “The transition is happening. It may happen faster in some segments than others, but it is a reality that the future is an electric future.” In November, GM launched a strategic partnership with the US startup Niron Magnetics, aimed at bringing new, rare earth-free automotive technology to market. GM’s plants are known as Ultium Cells LLC as a joint venture between GM and LG Energy Solution. GM has two Ultium Cells plants operational (Lordstown and Shanghai) and two more are under construction (Spring Hill and Lansing). Not all partnerships are always sweet, however, as the GM and LG Energy Solution joint venture battery plant in Ohio was censured for safety and health violations in October.

“We also can’t make that transition on our own,” Siemen continued. “So we need support from an infrastructure standpoint, policies, etc. to make that all-electric future a reality… One of the great things about being here at COP is the collaborations. We all have products we can compete on, products we need to collaborate on solutions. And, so, whatever that is and whatever we can do to accelerate a better future for all of us is great for everyone.”

Sustainability space achievements: “As a company, General Motors, I’m extremely proud of what we’re doing in the sustainability space,” Siemen discussed. “Everything from our pursuit of renewable energy, we have a goal to be 100% renewable globally by 2035, and we’ve actually achieved that by 2025 in the US. So continuing to do everything we can to be part of the solution.”

With their Ultium technology, GM is in the process of introducing a network of charging stations, dedicated back-up home power, and a suite of new products to help create a more resilient grid. The Ultium Home and Ultium Commercial product lines, for example, will provide cohesive energy management at the home, commercial, and community level.

Responsibility for the planet and the next generation: “And just so, climate change is a huge problem. It’s the biggest problem that our generation has to address, and that affects everybody” Seimen stated. Her statement was consistent with November’s Fifth National Climate Assessment, which showed a decline in US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions even as the population, a growing GDP, and the realization that every US region is experiencing climate threats and impacts at the same time that ambitious climate action is underway.

“As a mom, I have children that I worry about what their future looks like and their children. And so I think we have to continue to work together and think about that future so we have a planet that we can all live in and be successful in.”

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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