GM plans electric future, to intro 20 new cars by 2023

Ian Thibodeau

Warren — General Motors Co. is planning for a future in which none of its cars or trucks are powered by gasoline or diesel engines. Company leaders just aren’t sure how soon that future will arrive.

GM announced Monday it will introduce at least 20 new all-electric, zero-emission vehicles by 2023. That includes two new vehicles in the next 18 months that are based on the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt.

Traditional internal combustion engines are safe for now, according to Mark Reuss, GM vice president of global product development, purchasing and supply chain. But at a press conference at GM’s technical center he said the automaker plans for its entire line-up to be zero-emission at some point. This comes as automakers including Jaguar, Volvo and Volkswagen have said they will electrify their lineups within the next decade.

Some European countries have said by the middle of the century they will ban the sale of gas- or diesel-powered cars and trucks. California government officials are reportedly considering a ban to meet long-term goals for better air quality.

Reuss said GM is not giving a timeline for its electrified future, only saying the company has established a path to get there.

“Anybody that’s telling you a year doesn’t fully understand the complexity of a global market system,” he said. “I would be a fool to give you a year.”

Even with the scant details GM gave Monday, the announcement is huge, according to industry analyst Michelle Krebs.

“It was a big announcement with a few details, but more importantly, set the foundation for more specific future announcements,” Krebs said. “While they seemed vague on some of their answers, my sense is that it is not because they are vague in their thinking or plans but are just holding back some things for later announcements.”

She expects more news on electrification in the coming months.

Reuss did say Monday that the Bolt — marketed as an electric car for everyone, not just early adopters and the tech-savvy — is the test mule driving the Detroit-based automaker’s electric vehicle development. The Bolt is the key to achieving GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra’s vision for a future that is free from vehicle emissions, crashes and traffic congestion.

“It’s a platform that provides a window into the future,” Reuss said. “From self-driving technology to car-sharing, it has become a test bed for all sorts of new ways to look at transportation. But it’s also a window into how General Motors will move humanity forward in the future with all-electric propulsion.”

Pamela Fletcher, GM executive chief engineer for autonomous and electrified vehicles, and Charles Freese, GM executive director of the global fuel-cell business, joined Reuss to walk through a dramatic display inside the GM Technical Center Design Dome. The company placed a Chevy Bolt in the middle of stage in front of nearly a dozen vehicles hidden under drop-cloths.

The 20 vehicles planned for the next six years won’t all be new renditions of the Bolt. GM showed three concept vehicles Monday as evidence of the project’s scope. The company did not confirm that the concept models would become production models, but said it would focus on the immensely popular crossover and SUV segments.

The concept vehicles were an unnamed Cadillac crossover, an unnamed Buick SUV and a futuristic-looking Bolt EV concept with the bulging windows and cabin common in some futuristic autonomous vehicle designs. GM did not allow reporters to photograph the concept vehicles, and did not provide images.

The company plans to implement a new battery system and strategy, Fletcher said: Essentially, the battery packs will be available in two different sizes, which will allow for sleeker designs on some of the nameplates.

Freese said hydrogen fuel cells are part of a two-pronged approach to the zero-emission goal. The company is currently testing its fuel-cell powered Chevrolet Colorado ZH2 with the U.S. military.

And on Monday, Freese introduced the hydrogen fuel cell-powered SURUS, an acronym for Silent Utility Rover Universal Superstructure.

The four-wheel SURUS concept vehicle is built on a heavy-duty truck frame that’s powered by two electric motors. Photographs of the SURUS, which GM is not making available for publication, showed the large flatbed — the concept did not have a cabin for a driver — outfitted for a number of purposes, including a power-station on wheels. All appeared to be self-driving.

The fuel cell-powered SURUS would not be commercially available, but would be marketed commercially to military and disaster relief, among other things.

The company said it would begin making hydrogen fuel cells at its battery facility in Brownstown by 2020.

Reuss says the company is positioned to make money on electric vehicles, despite delayed adoption from consumers.

“This future will be profitable,” Reuss said. “We don’t have one solution for one market, but rather multiple solutions and the agility to do just about anything we want depending on how those markets develop. Anybody that claims to know the future of how this is going to develop, and where those volumes are, I just don’t believe that.”

Twitter: @Ian_Thibodeau