GM expects to fall short of 500K electric cars by 2017

Melissa Burden
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. said it is making progress in selling electrified vehicles, but doesn’t expect to meet its goal of having 500,000 GM vehicles on the road in the U.S. by 2017 that are powered in some way by electricity.

The Detroit automaker says 180,834 GM vehicles were on the road in 2014 in the U.S. with some form of electrification, up from 153,034 in 2013 and 39,843 in 2011. GM includes cars dating from the 2010 model year that are pure electrics, plug-in hybrid electrics or vehicles with two-mode hybrid technology or with eAssist, which uses a small electric motor and lithium-ion battery to improve fuel economy.

“For our commitment to electrification, our forecasted outlook currently projects us, along with the broader automotive industry, falling short of expectations for 2017,” the company said in its 2014 Sustainability Report released Thursday. “GM is committed to electrification and our award-winning eAssist, extended-range electric vehicle and battery electric vehicle offerings, but consumer demand for these vehicles has not kept up with our initial projections.”

GM CEO Mary Barra, who formerly was head of global product development for GM, announced the automaker’s electrification goal in November 2012. At that time, Barra said she expected the focus would be on plug-in electrics and that “hundred of thousands” of GM vehicles by 2017 would be equipped with eAssist.

GM’s announcement follows one from Energy Secretary Ernest Moinz earlier this year that the U.S. won’t meet President Obama’s goal of having 1 million electric vehicles on the road by the end of 2015.

GM, which is investing billions in electrification, blamed the slower sales pace on lower gasoline prices and a “surge” in competitive product offerings.

The automaker said it continues to “aspire” toward its goal and later this year is bringing to market a revamped 2016 Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric hybrid with increased electric range that is about $1,200 cheaper than the current generation. It also confirmed it will build the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt that will have 200 miles or more of electric range and be available for sale in all 50 states at a price of around $30,000 after a federal tax rebate.

The 2016 Chevrolet Malibu also will be available with a new hybrid model and Cadillac’s upcoming new CT6 luxury sedan will have a plug-in hybrid version.

GM and other automakers are challenged to boost fuel efficiency for regulatory and environmental reasons in the face of issues with customer acceptance and their willingness to pay for that alternative technology. Toyota Motor Corp. recently announced it will end production of its current-generation Toyota Prius plug-in hybrid in June amid high inventory levels and slow sales.

Electric vehicle and hybrid vehicle sales have slowed as consumers have chosen to buy bigger vehicles, SUVs and trucks with low gas prices.

The company said that while it remains committed to continuing to develop advanced technologies — including electrification — it sees the most effective way to handle issues such as lower gas prices globally by improving the internal combustion engine.

GM said it continues to work on reducing vehicle mass through the use of high-strength steel, carbon fiber and aluminum. The company says its vehicles could be up to 15 percent lighter than comparable vehicles on the road using efficient design and material mix.

The company said it now has six vehicles, up from five in 2013, available in the United States that achieve 40 miles per gallon highway or better. They are all Chevrolets and include the Chevrolet Cruze, Cruze Eco, Sonic, Sonic5, Volt, Spark battery electric vehicle. GM wants eight by 2017.

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