GM CEO Barra: Profitable, Affordable 300-Mile Electric Vehicles by 2021 ""

By | November 16, 2017

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2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV

In a presentation at the Barclays 2017 Global Automotive Conference, General Motors CEO Mary Barra assured investors that the company’s next generation of electric vehicles will offer more than added driving range and model variety—they also will generate profits for GM.

“Our mission for electrification is simple,” Barra declared. “We are working to provide desirable, obtainable, and profitable vehicles that deliver a range of over 300 miles.”

General Motors has already pushed electric-vehicle boundaries—in terms of driving range for the dollar—with its 238-mile Chevrolet Bolt EV. But the company reportedly loses thousands on each Bolt EV sold even at its full $37,495 list price (before the potentially threatened $7500 federal EV tax credit).

GM previously announced plans for 20 new zero-emission vehicles by 2023 (globally), including two within the next 18 months. In its Barclays presentation, GM included an illustration of its “future electrification bandwidth,” pointing to variants that would include a low-roof car, a lineup of SUVs and crossovers ranging up to seven-passenger models, and a couple of different vans. The new platform allows a larger footprint and lower height, with improved DC fast charging (likely 150 kW or higher) planned.

GM future EVThe two small crossovers arriving in the near term will share some components with the Bolt EV. One of those (above) was shown in the presentation and anticipated to be specifically for China. Another one, for the North American market, could be a strong contender against the upcoming Tesla Model Y as well as anticipated EVs from Ford, Volvo, Hyundai, and Volkswagen, among others.

Modularity and Economies of Scale

Improvements, Barra said, stem from GM’s all-new battery platform, which would provide more packaging flexibility (via flexible modular battery-pack configurations) at a lower cost, providing a “building-block approach” to future EV development. Battery energy density will rise, while per-cell cost is expected to drop from a current $145 to less than $100 per kilowatt-hour in the Bolt. GM plans to assemble these battery packs at scale in both China and the United States.

GM sees these strategies adding up to a total cost reduction of more than 30 percent—enough to achieve profitability even while attaining price parity between electric and gasoline vehicles. “That profitability has to be at the cost of that segment, that vehicle in today’s market,” said Barra.

“We plan to participate in the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet.”

– Mary Barra, General Motors CEO 

GM plans to fund the new EV and autonomous-vehicle development as part of an $8 billion investment. It foresees its own global EV volume hitting a million vehicles in 2026, with manufacturing capacity reconfigured for growth in China.

Economies of scale come in convergence and shared development among electrification, autonomous-technology, and shared-mobility programs. Barra stressed that GM’s electric-vehicle platform will provide the foundation for self-driving technologies, car sharing, and ride sharing—and that the company believes all fully autonomous vehicles should be electric. In its work with Cruise Automation, a Silicon Valley company it acquired last year, GM is already into the third iteration of its autonomous test vehicles after just 14 months.

GM CEO Barra in 2016

“We plan to participate in the biggest business opportunity since the creation of the internet,” said Barra, pointing to ways that the company could harness its data for other vehicle-based services.

About-Face on Fast-Charger Support

Barra’s presentation also marked an abrupt change in direction for the company’s approach to DC fast charging, which can restore most of a battery charge in well under an hour. While in the past GM has seen this technology as ancillary and shrugged off any plan to build charging stations—a position nearly the polar opposite of what other automakers (such as Tesla with its Supercharger network) have pursued—Barra delivered quite a different position while laying out the company’s EV push.

“We are going to commit and play a role in accelerating the rollout of additional DC fast chargers, and we will work to look at what is the right EV charging infrastructure across the country and in other countries. We will either partner, incentivize, or invest to make sure that this customer pain point is removed,” she said. “Because it’s a customer issue, it’s an issue that General Motors will address.”

There are currently more than 1100 DC fast chargers in the United States in the CCS format that GM vehicles can use, according to the automaker, and that’s already a 42 percent gain over last year.

“As we’re removing range anxiety, the charging infrastructure becomes the issue,” Barra said, noting that the company plans to work with various charging companies and organizations, including Volkswagen’s Electrify America, and incorporating charging data gathered through its Maven car-sharing operations.

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