GM to boost Bolt EV production at Orion plant

Nora Naughton
The Detroit News

General Motors Co. intends to increase production of the Chevrolet Bolt EV at its Orion Assembly Plant later this year in response to increasing global demand for the battery-electric car.

A 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV makes its way down the assembly line during production of the vehicle at the General Motors assembly plant in Lake Orion in this Dec. 6, 2016 file photo.

GM sold about 26,000 Bolt EVs globally in 2017, driven largely by U.S. consumers who bought 23,297 of the battery-electric compact crossovers. The Bolt became available nationwide in August.

But the Detroit automaker saw high demand for the Bolt in Mexico, Canada, the Middle East and Korea last year, driving the push to increase capacity at the increasingly crucial Orion Assembly Plant. The plant in Orion township also produces GM’s test-autonomous vehicles, which are essentially Bolt EVs equipped with lidar sensors. And at least two of the 20 new all-electric vehicles GM promises to introduce by 2023 will be built on the Bolt’s platform.

“Increased Bolt EV production benefits our customers around the world, our dealers and our employees, who are proud to build an affordable, ground-breaking vehicle that our customers love,” Mary Barra wrote in her prepared remarks for a Cambridge Energy Research Associates conference in Houston on Wednesday, where she announced the intention to ramp up production.

It’s not clear yet whether the increased capacity at Orion, the specifics of which GM does not share, will require extra shifts or added jobs.

Barra pushed for an expansion of federal tax credits that help make electric vehicles more affordable. The Bolt, for example, rings up at around $30,000 after a $7,500 federal tax rebate, making it the first affordable long-range electric vehicle. That $7,500 tax credit was spared in the final draft of the GOP tax bill after it was on the chopping block in earlier versions.

Among energy industry leaders at the CERAWeek conference, Barra also asked the energy industry to partner with the automotive industry on building out the country’s charging infrastructure and exploring the use of renewable power sources.

In response to strong global demand for the Bolt EV, GM will be adding production capacity to Orion Assembly in late 2018.

“We recognize the challenge that coal still generates about 30 percent of electricity in the U.S. and 65 percent in China,” Barra wrote in her remarks. “When we improve the percentage of renewable power sources in our grid, we can further reduce the carbon footprint of EVs.”

Barra also addressed a pending government review of Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards that were made more stringent during the Obama administration.

She said current standards do not account for increased shared and autonomous electric vehicles, and supports a move toward a unified government standard “with California part of that process.”