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GM to spend $20B on electric and self-driving vehicles through 2025

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

Warren — General Motors Co. plans to spend more than $20 billion for its electric- and autonomous-vehicle programs through 2025 as the automaker puts into motion its aggressive plans for the future.

GM wants to have 20 new electric vehicles on the market by 2023. As part of that, this year GM will launch electric vehicles across four brands. It will debut new battery technology first on its new GMC Hummer EV that expands its battery range and lowers the cost of electric vehicles, both top concerns for potential buyers.

GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra addresses a March 4 event detailing GM’s $20b investment in EVs in order to address climate change.

In an effort to prove its commitment to an electric future, GM on Wednesday gathered investors, dealers, policymakers and the news media to explain its electric vehicle strategy and to demonstrate that its plans are real and can be delivered profitably at scale across all brands.

With its fully electric push, GM is looking to compete with Tesla Inc., which continues to be the industry's best-selling electric brand and a Wall Street darling. Meanwhile, such rivals as Ford Motor Co., Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV and Toyota Motor Corp. are sticking to a mixed strategy of offering both hybrids and all-electric vehicles.

"GM is making a significant 'all-in' commitment to EVs well before we feel demand is there to support the investment from a volume standpoint," Jeff Schuster, industry analyst at LMC Automotive, said in a statement to The Detroit News. "As long as GM is prepared to weather the short- to mid-term margin risk, as costs decrease and infrastructure increases, they will be well-positioned for a future that is expected to be electric."

Globally, LMC expects about 17 million vehicles will be battery electric by 2030 — roughly equivalent to a year's total sales in the rich U.S. market. The United States is expected to have less than 2 million electric vehicles by 2030. By mid-decade, GM wants to sell 1 million electric vehicles per year in its two largest markets: North American and China.

On Wednesday, GM showed off 11 — including 10 never-before seen — future electric vehicles including the Cadillac Celestiq, a new hand-built all-electric luxury sedan; the Cadillac Lyriq, a crossover debuting in April; the 2020 Bolt and the new Bolt EUV, a larger version of the Bolt; pickup truck and SUV versions of the Hummer EV; the Cruise Origin, an autonomous shuttle; as well as an unnamed Chevrolet, Cadillac and two Buick SUVs. GM also showed images of an electric Chevrolet pickup.

It released photos of none of the vehicles, except for a teaser outline of the Lyriq.

"Our investments are delivering real results, as you will see here today, that will dramatically change the future of this company, and our industry," GM CEO Mary Barra said at the event. "To bring about that change, we want to get as many EVs on the road as quickly as possible ...."

The company is reviewing everything — from the design of the battery to the source of the chemistry in battery cells — to analyze "how to take costs out because that's going to help us deliver and have profitability across the portfolio," Barra said. "That allows us to win." 

Michelle Krebs, executive analyst for Autotrader, walked away from the event thinking, "it's a huge bet. It's not clear that it will work," she said. "The other thing that struck me was hearing all the executives absolutely believe they are on the right track."

GM will build its new EVs at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant, which is being retooled.

The Bolt EV will launch in late 2020, followed by the new Bolt EUV coming in summer 2021. The Bolt EUV will be the first brand outside of Cadillac to feature Super Cruise, GM's hands-free driving technology. GM plans to have 22 vehicles with Super Cruise by 2023, including 10 by 2021. Both Bolts will be built at the Orion Assembly plant.

On April 2 in Los Angeles, GM will unveil its new Cadillac Lyriq luxury electric crossover. Details of its launch will be released then, but it's expected to hit dealerships in 2022 for the 2023 model year. GM has not said where the new Cadillac will be built.

General Motors revealed its all-new modular platform and battery system known as Ultium.

A GMC Hummer EV will be unveiled May 20 and production will begin in fall 2021 at GM's Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly plant. GM didn't provide specifics on the Buick EV being introduced this year, but said future Buicks will be unveiled over the next few years. 

Detroit-Hamtramck will also build the Cruise Origin, a self-driving shuttle created by Cruise LLC, GM's autonomous-vehicle unit, in partnership with Honda Motor Co. The Cruise Origin will be the first product using GM's third-generation electric vehicle platform and new Ultium batteries, which GM claims are unique to the industry because the large-format pouch style cells can be stacked vertically or horizontally inside the battery pack, allowing designers to optimize battery storage and layout for each vehicle's design. 

The Ultium battery energy has range options from 50 to 200 kWh, which GM estimates will provide a range of up to 400 miles or more on a full charge. In comparison, the 2020 model Bolt hitting dealerships later this year has a 66-kWh battery which delivers a claimed 259 miles of range on a full charge.

The Hummer, Cruise Origin and Cadillac Lyriq all will feature Ultium batteries.These vehicles will be built with the next-generation electric architecture with a promised 0-to-60 acceleration time of 3 seconds. The platform will support front-wheel drive, rear-wheel drive, all-wheel drive and performance all-wheel drive applications. 

Most of the Ultium-battery powered electric vehicles will have 400-volt battery packs and up to 200-kW fast-charging capability. And the truck platform will have 800-volt battery packs and 350 kW fast-charging capability. 

GM currently has 555 different internal combustion engine powertrain combinations in production, GM President Mark Reuss said: "The EV portfolio that you see in the room can be supported by just 19 EV propulsion combinations, using our unique battery modules, drive units and power electronics."

Cost control

GM engineers pushed at EV Day how the automaker's flexible, modular approach to EV development will drive economies of scale and create new revenue opportunities. 

GM is building a battery-cell manufacturing site in northeast Ohio with LG Chem to help  reduce the cost of batteries, which should reduce the overall cost of the electric vehicles.

Cell costs typically make up 80% of the total cost of the battery. GM estimates it will be able to lower its battery cell costs to $100 per kWh from the $145 per kWh that exists today.

GM wants to utilize its new battery cells as a potential revenue source by marketing the cells and licensing the technology to others. To lower costs, GM designed a new battery system that integrates components and changes the battery-cell chemistry, said Sam Abuelsamid, principal analyst at Navigant Research: "All of that is important in getting to profitability with these vehicles." 

GM's new batteries have 70% less cobalt and an increased amount of nickel and aluminum. GM is working on securing supplies of nickel and lithium for its batteries, with a goal of sourcing as much of the raw material as possible from North America.

If GM makes 1 million electric vehicles per year, the automaker will need a quarter of a billion cells or hundreds of thousands of cells per day.