The General strikes back
On March 4th, General Motors Co. began assembling hundreds of employees, dealers, investors, analysts, media and policymakers to share details of its strategy to grow the company’s electric vehicle (EV) sales quickly, efficiently, and profitably.
“Our team accepted the challenge to transform product development at GM and position our company for an all-electric future,” said Mary Barra, GM Chairman and CEO. “What we have done is build a multi-brand, multi-segment EV strategy with economies of scale that rival our full-size truck business with much less complexity and even more flexibility.”
The heart of GM’s strategy is a modular propulsion system and a highly flexible, third-generation global EV platform (after the Chevrolet Volt and Bolt) powered by proprietary Ultium batteries. They will allow the company to compete for customers looking for affordable transportation, a luxury experience, work trucks, or a high-performance vehicle.
“Thousands of GM scientists, engineers, and designers are working to execute an historic reinvention of the company,” said GM President Mark Reuss. “They are on the cusp of delivering a profitable EV business that can satisfy millions of customers.”
According to GM, third-party forecasters expect U.S. EV volumes to more than double from 2025 to 2030 to about 3 million units on average. The company believes volumes could be materially higher as more EVs are launched in popular segments, charging networks grow, and the total cost of ownership to consumers continues to fall.
Ultium batteries and propulsion system highlights
GM says that the Ultium batteries are unique because the large-format, pouch-style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside their packs, allowing engineers to optimize battery energy storage and layout for each vehicle design. Energy options range from 50 to 200 kW·h, with an estimated range up to 400 mi (645 km) or more on a full charge, and an acceleration rate of 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in as little as 3 s.
Motors designed in-house will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive, and performance all-wheel drive applications. Ultium-powered EVs are designed for Level 2 and DC fast charging. Most will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200-kW fast-charging capability while the truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350-kW fast-charging capability.
GM believes its flexible, modular approach to EV development will drive significant economies of scale and create new revenue opportunities. Its joint venture with LG Chem will drive battery cell costs below $100/kW·h. The joint $2.3 billion plant for battery-cell production in Lordstown, OH, will be about the size of 30 U.S. football fields and ultimately produce 30 GW·h of annual capacity.
The cells use a proprietary low-cobalt, high-nickel chemistry and ongoing technological and manufacturing breakthroughs are expected drive costs even lower. By vertically integrating the manufacture of battery cells, the company says it can reach beyond its own fleet and license technology to others. The large-format pouch cells require less wiring and plumbing than cylindrical round cells. The battery management system is built into the pack, which eliminates 80% of the battery pack’s wiring compared to the Bolt EV.
The new global platform is flexible enough to build a range of trucks, SUVs, crossovers, cars, and commercial vehicles with claimed design, performance, packaging, range, and affordability advantages. The company says it can spend less capital to scale its EV business because it is able to leverage existing property including production, body, and paint facilities. The vehicle and propulsion systems were designed together to minimize complexity and part counts. For example, GM has 19 initial plans for different battery and drive unit configurations compared with 550 internal combustion powertrain combinations available today.
Upcoming electric vehicles
GM says the first generation of its future EV program will be profitable. These programs aim to pave the way for further accretive growth. The technology can reportedly be scaled to meet customer demand much higher than the more than 1 million global sales the company expects mid-decade.
Chevrolet, Cadillac, GMC, and Buick will all be launching new EVs starting this year. The next new Chevrolet EV will be a revised Bolt, launching in late 2020, followed by the new 2022 Bolt EUV utility/crossover, launching in Summer 2021. The Bolt EUV will be the first vehicle outside of the Cadillac brand to feature Super Cruise hands-free driving technology for the highway, which GM will expand to 22 vehicles by 2023, including 10 by next year.
Among the other vehicles shown were the GMC Hummer long-wheelbase SUT and short-wheelbase SUV; Chevrolet mid-size SUV; Buick SUV and CUV; and Cadillac Lyric mid-sized crossover. It wasn't until the end of the media preview that an upcoming hand-built flagship for Cadillac, called the Celestiq, was shown.
The Cruise Origin, a self-driving, electric shared vehicle, was the first product revealed (in January 2020 in San Francisco) using GM’s third-generation EV platform and Ultium batteries. Next will be the Cadillac Lyriq luxury SUV in April. The reveal of the Ultium-powered GMC Hummer EV will follow on May 20. Production is expected to begin in Fall 2021 at GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant, GM’s first assembly plant 100% dedicated to EV production.